Parents feel voices go unheard after BESE meeting ends early due to unruly crowd

Local News

BATON ROUGE, LA. (BRPROUD) – On Wednesday, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) met to vote on whether school districts should be the ones to mandate masks for their students and the possible exemptions to the rule. 

Parents and guardians came from all over the state to testify. After waiting for over two hours for the regular agenda to be completed, people began demanding the board members return from executive session. When they were told to put their masks on so the meeting could continue, the crowd erupted.

Board members tried to calm the crowd, but when the board tried to recess for lunch the crowd became unruly.

“Please allow us to have an orderly meeting. That way we can hear every single person here,” Board Member Michael Melerine said.

The board was supposed to debate potential exemptions from the mask mandate put in place by Governor John Bel Edwards. Attorney General Jeff Landry and GOP leaders have been opposed to the order. 

“If you want to wear the mask, wear the mask. We don’t care,” said Summer Lejeune of Davis Parish. “What we’re asking is that you give us the same courtesy and right to choose what we want for ourselves and our babies.”

The mandate came as Louisiana hit the worst surge since the beginning of the pandemic. Over three thousand people are currently hospitalized with COVID, which includes more children than previous spikes.

“Honestly, I think it’s ridiculous that we’re even having a debate whether or not there should be masks. It’s the only mitigation some schools are taking,” said Dr. Jennifer Herricks of Immunize Louisiana.

A majority of the crowd refused to leave or mask up, so the board voted to end without hearing public comment which left people feeling their voices went unheard.

“We don’t want our kids to have to wear the mask all day and yet we won’t put it on for five minutes to fight for them. It’s like we are destroying our cause,” said Jordan Russell with Unmask Our Kids Louisiana.

Russell said some members of the group were willing to wear their masks for the meeting, but another group led by Pastor Tony Spell refused.

Some came in support of the mandate. They said masking is the only way to slow down the worst surge of the pandemic and to protect children who cannot get vaccinated.

“If parents and adults cannot do their job and protect their children from COVID-19 during the most deadly surge that we are seeing in Louisiana, then the schools are going to have to step up and do it for them,” said Kaitlyn Joshua of the Power Coalition for Equity and Justice.

It is not clear if or when BESE will take the topic up again.

Currently, the governor’s mask mandate is in place until Sept. 1 but he said depending on the COVID situation at the end of the month, that could be extended. BESE still has a couple more weeks to decide what they’re going to do while this mandate is still in place.

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