Police take down poster opposing student masks at Hamilton school board meeting

A public meeting of the Hamilton school board saw some parents objecting to masks for students with one parent ordered to leave the building after police grabbed an anti-mask poster.

The audience of about 50 on Thursday prompted Hamilton Board of Education President Laurin Sprague to admonish some and he also ordered one speaker – who was commenting to the board outside of the allowed public speaking portion of the meeting - to leave.

Following a presentation by Superintendent Mike Holbrook on the impact of the board’s ordering earlier this month all students and school staffers to be masked while in school buildings, a series of speakers – nine opposing masks and two favoring – filled the 30-minute public comment section of the meeting.

School parent Jennifer Mason told the board ordering the district’s 10,000 students to wear masks was excessive and an overstep of members’ power.

“For children, said Mason, “the virus has a very, very low mortality rate” and “Covid is completely recoverable for children.”

Fellow school parent Samantha Gaston, told the board “your policy is a mistake and I implore you to reverse it and unmask our children.”

But Holbrook earlier told the board when it approved mandatory masks in an emergency board meeting in early September – with no public participates present – the district had 903 students out of classes due to quarantines and 81 students testing positive for the virus.

At that time, the district had a policy where masks for students were strongly recommended.

But as of 10 a.m. Thursday, he said, the district had lowered its quarantine number of students to 210 and those testing positive to 42.

“What we are doing seems to be working. More students are in school today than when we started this (mandatory masks),” said Holbrook.

Hamilton school parent Michael Todd said he was helping to hold a large photo poster up behind one of the parent speakers opposing masks.

The poster’s owner said the photo was of a large group of Hamilton High School students at a recent football game – all sitting closely without wearing masks. On the poster was printed: “This Board Is Intellectually Dishonest.”

A video shot by another audience member appears to show the officer crumpling up the poster. Todd claims he was ordered to leave the building.

“They made me feel really anxious and made me feel like I was a criminal when I was just there to speak my mind,” said Todd, who added he has complained to the city police department.

Hamilton Police Captain Marc McManus said the department is reviewing the incident and will look at video of what transpired to see if the officer involved acted properly.

In an email from Holbrook - sent to the Journal-News and identified as a statement released by school district officials, they wrote: “Before the beginning of the (board) meeting, several individuals brought posters, and each was told they were not permissible. Unfortunately, one poster was not identified and made it into the auditorium where the (board) meeting was held.”

“When the resident spoke, a poster was displayed, and school personnel approached her, communicating she was not permitted to display the poster,” according to the statement.

Holbrook continued: “At that point, two participants in the audience took control of the poster, held it up for display. Finally, school personnel confiscated the poster.”

Editor’s note: The Journal-News has changed some characterizations of this meeting from a previous version.

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