A school board meeting in the Poway Unified School district was abruptly adjourned without its business being completed Thursday night.
The board blames a “disruptive group” that “forced its way inside the district office.”
The group, protesting the mask mandate in schools, tells a different story.
It all began with a rally outside the district headquarters. The organizer said they brought chairs, their laptops and even pizza to sit outside the board’s meeting, intending to call in on zoom to speak. The district is conducting its board meetings virtually during the pandemic and was live-streaming the meeting for the public.
“We wanted to show them it was ridiculous that they keep parents outside on zoom calls for a closed meeting when the rest of districts have open meetings,” said the group’s organizer and Poway parent Cheryl Giustiniano
Giustiniana is a member of the group "Let Them Breathe", but she says people from other groups promoting mask choice were also there. She said someone let people in.
“I waited outside for some time then someone came and told me, 'Cheryl, they’re letting us in.' I assumed at that point that we had made our point and they were allowing us to come in.”
The school district said they forced their way in and were disruptive. Giustiniano said there was no tension or fighting, but while she said many people took videos of inside the board meeting, she could not make a video available to NBC 7 on Friday.
As seen on the district’s website the meeting was adjourned. The district put out a statement that reads:
Tonight, unfortunately, the Poway Unified Board of Education was advised by law enforcement to adjourn the school board meeting without conducting the business of the District.
A small, disruptive group forced their way inside the district office, pushing past staff. The group was politely asked to leave but refused. The protestors not only prevented the Board from doing the business of the school district, which serves nearly 36,000 students, but also prevented recognition of our hardworking teachers, classified employees of the year, and student representatives.
The Poway Unified Board of Education has a vested interest in including the public in our meetings, and we have a well-established process to do so. This meeting was clearly posted as a meeting with limited in-person attendance due to COVID safety protocols, defined under the Governor’s modified health order which temporarily allows public comments and attendance via teleconference. The meeting is live streamed and accessible to the public, and there were dozens of members of the public who signed up in advance, waiting to speak via the online link. Just this week alone, Board members received nearly a thousand emails from our stakeholders respectfully advocating their opinions and positions on various topics.
However, due to the ongoing presence of protestors who refused to leave the meeting room and verbally abused the staff, law enforcement advised adjourning the meeting to ensure the safety of our staff and students. This is an unfortunate example of modeling inappropriate behavior for our students and children who were present. The Board encourages civil discourse, but this type of behavior will not be tolerated at any meetings.
Giustiniano gave NBC 7 a video where San Diego Police officers tell protestors who asked that they did not tell the board to adjourn the meeting and were there to “keep the peace.”
She also said the district is blaming the group "Let Them Breathe" when other people from throughout the county were also there.
“I’m angry about what they said. I feel like that maligned my reputation, directly lying to the community about what happened…. I want to set the record straight," she said.
The Founder of "Let Them Breathe” said the group does not advocate going into a meeting not physically opened to the public, and what happened in Poway was not directly "Let Them Breathe.”