A Portland Public Schools board meeting was temporarily suspended and moved to an online video platform on Tuesday night after nearly 100 protesters against a COVID-19 vaccine mandate refused to wear masks inside the district headquarters building.
The board meeting was scheduled by PPS to discuss whether to issue a vaccine mandate for students aged 12 and above. Although a political group called “People’s Rights,” with ties to Idaho anti-government militant Ammon Bundy, sent out a mass email calling for protesters to flood district headquarters that evening, many protesters who actually arrived were not affiliated with Bundy’s group and did not see themselves as in league with the far-right activists.
But the opinions of Portland parents and students were largely overshadowed by people who arrived from other Oregon towns, drawn to the meeting by rage at the idea of a school district requiring vaccinations for teenagers. Their intrusion marked another battle ground in the ongoing culture war over COVID health rules.
The protesters carried a range of signs. Some alleged that mandates infringe upon personal rights, while others rejected the idea of vaccines altogether.
A smaller number of counterprotesters supporting the mandate, mainly local high school students, were also present. They debated with anti-vaccine mandate protesters.
Lillie Stewart, a Grant High School senior, was among them.
“I wanted to make sure that the district knew that there is strong support for this,” Stewart said. “I haven’t personally heard any students that I actually go to school with who have verbally stated their opposition to a vaccine mandate.”
The building security personnel approached unmasked attendees in the building and instructed them to put on masks, per the district policy. Some complied, but removed their masks shortly after, while others refused altogether.
The School Board members suspended the meeting at 6:30 pm, saying that all attendees must wear face masks in the building. Tensions flared as some protesters wanted everyone to follow the mask policy for the sake of being able to voice their opinions during the meeting.
“Either abide [by the mask policy], or don’t and leave,” one anti-mandate protester told WW. “You have let people’s voices be heard, and let my daughter’s voice be heard.”
The mother of a PPS student was one of many who did not want disruption of the meeting by unmasked protesters.
“You’re not allowing that when you know when we can’t have a conversation,” she said. She declined to give her name.
The most vehement anti-vaccine protesters, including a Proud Boy named Chris Tough, stood up and hurled insults at School Board members.
“You’re all cowards!” Tough repeatedly yelled at the board members as they filed out of the room. Others rushed to calm him down.
“Recall the School Board!” another yelled from the back.
The board meeting continued on a virtual platform, projected on multiple screens in the building. Some protesters decided to have their own meeting to organize their ongoing efforts against vaccine mandates.