A Portland Public School Board meeting to discuss a possible student vaccination mandate drew crowds of protesters unmasked and carrying placards which forced Tuesday’s meeting online and further delayed it of one hour.
At first, a small number of participants were not allowed to enter the PPS district building because they were not wearing masks. Others wore masks and then took them off once inside, prompting PPS board chair Michelle DePass to ask everyone to put on their masks or the meeting would end.
“I would like to give everyone the opportunity to put on a mask, to protect the staff, the students and all of us who are here,” DePass said to the applause of some attendees.
“If we cannot achieve 100% compliance, I will adjourn the meeting for the next two minutes. “
Some attendees did not put on masks and DePass suspended the meeting. Some attendees started to scream, and a man stood up and pointed at the board members, calling them “cowards.”
As emotions in the room grew tense, Winterhaven parent Kassia Lisac feared the meeting would be taken over by people unrelated to the neighborhood.
“This is not where the voices of parents want to be,” said Lisac, a mother of three. At the same time, although her 12-year-old is vaccinated, she is not in favor of a full vaccination mandate for all eligible students.
“We just want our kids to maybe have a little time to see what’s going on,” she said. “… we just want it to be, maybe regulated by the FDA for a year, maybe a few years.”
“Parents aren’t politicized that way, we just don’t want… we’re trying to serve the largest group of all children, not just our own,” Lisac said.
The board considered four options for a possible vaccine requirement: a mandate for students aged 12 and over participating in extracurricular activities; for all students aged 12 and over; for all students aged 16 and over; or no warrant.
The council also looked at various exemptions, including religious and philosophical exemptions.
Council members appeared divided between those who opposed a vaccination mandate and those who supported a requirement affecting all students 12 and older.
The district had originally scheduled a November 2 vote on any vaccine mandate. But that timeline has been extended so the district can gather more information, do more community engagement, and possibly write an implementation plan. Further discussion and a potential vote will now take place on November 16.
The PPS community seemed equally divided, with comments written strongly in favor and comments given during the PPS listening sessions strongly against. Supporters expressed that a mandate would be good for public health and pointed out that schools already require vaccinations against other diseases. Opponents of the vaccination mandate said the decision was made too quickly, with some families saying they were deregistering their students from school.