It’s hard to single out the most absurd part of the story of what happened to three moms who signed up to speak about critical race theory (CRT) and mask mandates at the school board meeting in a small southwest Washington town.
Was it when board members picked on one of the parents and then blamed a “disruption” on her?
Was it when the parents were locked out of the meeting?
Or was it when the cops were called?
It’s such a target-rich environment of outrage that it’s hard to know where to start. But let’s give it a go.
The three moms, Tatyana Stepanyuk, Patricia Bellamy and Melissa Mcilwain, signed up to speak at the Washougal, Wash., school board meeting on May 11. The town sits on the Columbia River just across from Portland.
The three signed up to address mask mandates at the schools and critical race theory being added to the curriculum under orders from Governor Jay Inslee.
But they never got to speak.
The sparsely attended in-person meeting, which was also broadcast online, barely got off the ground before the school superintendent and her underling insisted that the one person in the room without a mask should put one on. Stepanyuk invoked the governor’s words that she wasn’t required to wear one due to medical and religious exemptions. She noted that everyone else had a mask on so they were protected, no problem. Yet, the masked officials spent their valuable meeting time pedantically explaining to the woman how she needed to comply. But for the actions of Superintendent Mary Templeton and the board disrupting the meeting it would have progressed as normal. But that was not to be. Instead their superintendent and board caused a cluster storm of reaction from which the district may not soon recover.
Stepanyuk’s friends, Bellamy and Mcilwain, wore masks but told the superintendent that they had no problem with her not wearing one, assuming that transmitting the COVID virus was the school official’s concern.
For more than 20 minutes, the superintendent, assistant superintendent, and a board member took turns standing over the woman and lecturing her. Stepanyuk took video of the last eight minutes of the lecture, calmly recited the law, and remarked about how she was sorry that these educators hadn’t educated themselves about the mask law.
Here’s how part of that went:
Mom: It’s a public meeting and I’ll stay in the public meeting that I am legally allowed to be in. … I’m good. I can be here.
Superintendent: I believe this is the board’s meeting
Mom: It’s public schools, in a public building, for a public meeting.
Superintendent: Well, sure, but … we have the guidance that we’re going to ask you to follow.
Mom: I own a business and if I say … under my guidance black people are not allowed in the meeting, am I allowed to do that? No, because that’s illegal and I would never do that. And what you’re doing … telling people that I can’t be here because I don’t have a mask on is illegal.
Over and over. Rinse and repeat.
Unable and unwilling to acknowledge that this parent was right, the hectoring continued.
But moments later, after the verbal blows failed to land on the school officials’ target, the board voted to clear the room due to “a disruption in the meeting.”
It bears repeating at this time that Bellamy and Mcilwain had been masked up, sitting and waiting to speak before the meeting was abruptly stopped.
The people at the meeting left, got in their cars, and drove away.
While the moms were on their way home, they got a call from a parent watching on Zoom and were told that a new meeting was underway.
They turned around and went back.
The door was locked.
The parents knocked on the door, spoke through an open window, asking to be let in, and someone closed the window on them. Bellamy told me on the radio on Friday that for the next 30 minutes the women stood there in disbelief while the people inside, including the board members, “laughed at and mocked” them.
A “community member” reportedly went back to her car, retrieved sidewalk chalk, and wrote the sidewalks, windows, and one of the officials’ cars words such as “illegal.”
The next thing they knew, a local police officer was there citing the women for trespassing and Stepanyuk for disorderly conduct.
Silenced, the mothers went home.
On the district website the next day the board members said they “will not tolerate the acts of vandalism, disorderly conduct or intimidation.”
How noble. How brave.
It wasn’t the mothers waiting to speak doing the intimidating. It wasn’t the mothers who disrupted the meeting. You need only look at the superintendent and the board who disrupted their own meeting to browbeat a mom, who had the law on her side, in a vain attempt to force compliance. The superintendent stood over the woman within close proximity, so obviously social distancing wasn’t the issue. And if there hadn’t been the outsized intimidation of the mom, one can surmise there wouldn’t have been any “acts of vandalism” with children’s chalk.
If they had left her alone, they could have proceeded with the meeting.
Instead, the superintendent and the board blamed Stepanyuk’s failure to comply with their rules for the “disruption.”
And now, because of the trespassing citation, the single mothers were instructed that they could be arrested and cited for burglary if they show up on district property to pick up their children from school or go to their children’s athletic events. Mcilwain would risk arrest going to her children’s graduations from kindergarten and fifth grade.
Mcilwain and Bellamy have built a website called Washougal Moms to tell their story. They believe they were defamed by the school district in the local newspaper and are seeking donations to pay legal bills. They held a rally (see video below) on May 25 to draw attention to the issue. They say they’ve already found candidates for the school board and are also looking for a civil rights attorney to bring a lawsuit against the district.
All of that for trying to speak at a public meeting.
All the district had to do was let them speak.
An attorney with the Freedom Foundation, which is already combating the state’s mask mandates, says there may have been violations of state open meeting laws and civil rights rights violations.