Protesters shut down a Utah school board meeting by yelling, 'No more masks!' Now 11 of them face charges.

Zoom screenshot (The Washington Post)

A May school board meeting in Utah followed a routine agenda for about 30 minutes before things devolved into chaos.

In a public comment session, a woman gave a five-minute address taking issue with the Granite School District's rule requiring students to wear face masks during the global pandemic. Fellow protesters cheered her on, and then the chanting started.

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"No more masks! No more masks!" dozens shouted over other speakers, with some moving to the front of the room.

The commotion derailed the event, and now 11 people have been charged with disorderly conduct and disrupting a public meeting, Ben Horsley, a spokesman for Granite School District in Salt Lake City, said on Tuesday.

The misdemeanor charges could mean up to a year in county jail and a $2,500 fine.

Many of the people charged weren't associated with the school district, Horsley said, which slowed the investigation. Police are still seeking information on a 12th person who may have been involved in the disruption, he said.

The Utah school board meeting was not the only one to face protests over mask mandates during the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 600,000 Americans. Similar protests broke out at board meetings in Arizona, Florida, New York and Pennsylvania.

Health experts - including Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases - have said unvaccinated students will probably need to wear face masks into the fall term. Children under the age of 12 are not yet approved to receive the coronavirus vaccine.

Horsley, the school district spokesman, said there are repercussions to the mask protesters preventing the board from conducting its business. The board and district "encourage civil discourse as we model appropriate behavior for our children and students," he added.

The May 4 board meeting took place about three weeks after Utah lifted its mask mandate, though the requirement remained in place for schools. The board permitted three members of the public to address any topic during the meeting, which was broadcast online.

The first speaker talked about the need for more attention on special education. The second was the woman who took issue with the mask mandate. The third speaker praised the district's mask rules, prompting the protesters to boo and yell over her with one person shouting, "Blah blah blah blah!"

The protesters continued to shout as Utah Democratic state Sen. Kathleen Riebe reached the lectern to talk about teacher appreciation week. When board members moved to stop an unscheduled speaker from following Riebe's remarks, the protester began yelling into the mic.

"Are you serious?" she asked. A man who walked to the front of the room added, "You will listen to us!"

A board member announced the board had more business to address. The man at the front of the room held up a piece of paper and told the crowd the board members were lying to them about masks.

"This is wrong! You all know it!" he said, pointing at the board members before other protesters began chanting, "No more masks!"

When the school board announced the meeting was adjourned, the male protester at the front of the room said he would be holding a vote to end the mask mandate, despite having no authority to change the policy.

"Since they're going to leave, we're going to take control," the man said.

Horsley previously compared the school board protesters to the rioters who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 to interfere with the presidential election certification. "They came in and took the spots on the stand and held a mock meeting for several minutes before they left the building," Horsley told the Salt Lake Tribune after the May meeting.

Utah Republican Gov. Spencer Cox announced less than 10 days after the rowdy Granite board meeting that masks would no longer be required in schools.

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