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Hundreds rally at Washougal schools meeting against masks, equity policy change

Large crowd gathers ahead of Tuesday's board meeting

By , Columbian staff writer
2 Photos
Parents gather outside the Washougal School District headquarters Tuesday night before a school board meeting.
Parents gather outside the Washougal School District headquarters Tuesday night before a school board meeting. (Meg Wochnick/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Hundreds gathered outside of the Washougal School District headquarters ahead of Tuesday’s school board meeting to rally against masks in schools, a proposed change to the district’s equity policy and other topics related to a board meeting held earlier this month.

American flags lined Evergreen Way in front of the school district office at 4833 Evergreen Way at the event that also featured live music, a barbecue and guest speakers. 

Yacolt resident Joe Kent, who announced he plans to challenge U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler for Washington’s 3rd Congressional District, was one of the speakers to address the crowd after leading it in a short prayer. He expressed gratitude for uniting “to keep the federal and state government away from our children and out of our schools.”

“There is no rational reason to have vaccination sites at schools,” he said. “There’s absolutely no reason for the federal government to encroach like this on our children and on our personal lives.”

Lorene, who declined to give her last name, came to Washougal to support the event. She has grown children who didn’t attend Washougal schools, but told The Columbian she believes the school board is overreaching  and “they’re trying to take away parents’ rights and I don’t think that’s fair.”

Cindy, another supporter who declined to give her last name, has two school-age grandchildren in a neighboring district. Like Lorene, she said she believes the school board is overreaching their authority on a host of topics. 

“It’s not their job to mask up kids or vaccinate kids,” Cindy said. “They work for us. We don’t work for them. … We have God-given rights. First Amendment, Second Amendment, Third Amendment, Fourth Amendment, and we’re being violated — not only the school board but every area of our lives right now, and it’s not OK.”

The rally continued well after Tuesday’s all-virtual school board meeting began. The district announced May 13 that because of COVID-19, Tuesday’s scheduled meeting would be reverting back to all-virtual meetings with no in-person attendees until further notice. The decision came after the May 11 regular board meeting when the board voted to recess to clear the room, then adjourned following what the district described as disruptions that eventually “escalated to vandalism of the District Office building and the personal vehicles of board members and school district staff.”

The next day, the district released a statement that read, in part, “When community members refuse lawful requests to vacate the board room and district property, and seek to disrupt the orderly business of the board, the board will seek support from local law enforcement, who will force non-compliant community members to leave.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, several spoke during public comment in favor of and against the district’s equity, diversity and inclusion policy revision, which got a second reading by board members. Board Director Jim Cooper stated the proposed revision is “simple and makes sense” and quoted a line from the policy that aims to “create an environment where all individuals are welcomed, respected, accepted and valued as members of the school community.”

He concluded his comments by stating: “To the members of the community who oppose our equity policy, I have the following to say: If you believe the district policy should not provide equal opportunities for every child, regardless of family income or structure, language, race, religion, etc., or the district policy should not welcome and respect every child or if you think every district teacher and staff member should not be engaged in helping to create such an equitable educational environment, then we will have to agree to disagree.”