When an elementary school principal in Northern California walked out of the main office to meet a parent who was late to pick up his daughter Wednesday, the father allegedly began yelling profanities.
“I don’t wear my mask outside. I had it on because I was indoors,” the student told her father in an attempt to calm him down, according to Gibson, who was briefed on the incident by the principal. The principal backed the student up and explained that vaccinated staff members are allowed to remove their masks when students are not around, Gibson said.
The father eventually left but allegedly returned about 45 minutes later to confront the principal in her office, Gibson said. When a teacher who had witnessed the first encounter stepped in to the office to intervene, the father allegedly struck the teacher in the face and a physical altercation between the two men followed, she said.
The encounter left the teacher needing medical attention, the community shaken and school leaders demanding more police presence on campus, Gibson said.
“Physically attacking a teacher over a mask is ludicrous,” the superintendent told The Post. “As a district, we have to follow the law. There is no choice.”
She added: “The kids have no problems wearing a mask. They want to be at school, they want to be with their friends and teachers. It’s the parents.”
The altercation illustrates the battles caused by an ongoing pandemic and the sensitive spot school leaders are in keeping children safe from illness while creating a somewhat normal learning environment.
Schools are reopening with coronavirus restrictions that have placed masking at the center of education and politics. Though the majority of parents support mask mandates in school, some state leaders have banned school districts from mandating universal masking.
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona wrote the governors of Texas and Florida stating that their bans on school districts creating mask policies were inconsistent with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s masking guidelines.
For parents opposing mask use at public schools, their options are limited, experts say.
Sutter Creek Elementary leaders were following guidance from California public health officials and their local school board.
The California Department of Public Health announced in July that masks would be part of the school year. Earlier this month, the Amador County Public Schools Board of Trustees chose to mandate masks for all students with exceptions only for those with medical reasons, the Ledger Dispatch reported.
California has reported nearly 4 million coronavirus cases and more than 64,000 deaths since the onset of the pandemic, according to the health department. Amador County has reported just over 1,000 cases this year and 40 percent of its population is vaccinated, according data from the CDC.
On Thursday, California became the first state to require coronavirus vaccinations or tests for teachers and school employees, citing the highly contagious delta variant as a factor.
The delta variant has also pushed the CDC to recommend students ages 2 and older, staff, teachers and others wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status.
After Wednesday’s incident at the elementary school, a report was filed with the Sutter Creek Police Department, Gibson said. The parent, whom Gibson said she would like to see charged with a felony, is no longer allowed on school campus, but his child is.
In a letter sent to parents on Thursday, Gibson said assaulting staff members on any school campus in the district would not be allowed and “will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
“Remember, we are not the ones making the rules/mandates, we are the ones required to follow/enforce them if we want to keep our doors open and students at school five days a week,” she said.
Gibson told The Post the injured teacher was left with cuts and bruises on his face and a knot on his head but was well enough to be back at school the following day.
The Sutter Creek Police Department did not respond to a request for comment but said in a social media post that it is investigating the incident.
Many parents told FOX40, on and off camera, that they understand the father’s frustration but violence is never the answer.
“[Teachers] should not be subjected to that kind of violence or that kind of adversity,” said Rebecca Tracy, an Amador County resident.
The legal options for parents who do not want their children wearing face coverings are limited, said Aaron Tang, professor of law at the University of California at Davis.
“There’s no constitutional right to an education,” he explained. “There’s no right to a public education, and there’s no right to an unmasked education.”
Those who argue that mask mandates in schools such as Sutter Creek Elementary interfere with quality education, or infringe upon liberty or speech, will likely have losing arguments in court because of the constitution and recent high-profile cases, Tang noted.
Gibson told The Post that such an incident “has never happened at any of our school campuses” and that officials have asked local authorities for more police on school premises.
“Do I think it could happen again? Absolutely, it could happen again,” Gibson said. “Emotions are really high. It’s very difficult. The majority of our parents would say, ‘Yeah, we don’t like [the mask mandate], but we would never go to violence.’ ”
To those who disagree with the mask mandate, Gibson asked for civility.
“We are following the rules that allow us to keep our doors open so kids can come to school,” she said. “We acknowledge that people don’t like it, but we have to follow the rules.”