It was a scary scene outside a school board meeting in Williamson County, Tenn., late Tuesday when a swarm of angry anti-mask parents heckled and threatened other parents for supporting a new round of face-coverings in schools.
Those who spoke in favour of the masks were harassed by parents outside the meeting, amid chants of “We will not comply!” and “No more masks!”
Video captured from the scene shows sheriff’s deputies pleading with the protesters to remain peaceful, even as several individuals were shouting threats at those who left the meeting.
“We know who you are!” one man can be heard shouting at a parent as he got into his car. “We will find you!”
The outrage erupted after a Williamson County school board meeting, at which several medical professionals, including parents, argued for re-introducing mandatory masks for children in schools. The idea was spurred by a surge in COVID-19 cases throughout the state due to the highly infectious Delta variant.
Many of the speakers were doctors and nurses, and they faced frequent interruptions from the audience, which included a large number of unmasked parents.
Security officers were ultimately called in to escort some attendees out of the building.
“It was hard to fathom,” said Dr. Meredith Duke, a surgeon at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and mother of four kids at Williamson County schools. Duke and her son were among those escorted out of the meeting, though she told local broadcaster WSMV that it was for their safety.
“I was wearing a white coat and a mask. I think it was very clear what I was supporting,” she said. “There were people screaming and threatening me, and I just couldn’t believe it.”
The board ultimately voted 7-3 in favour of reinstating the mask mandate, siding with those who argued that wearing masks for in-person classes would be better than another semester of virtual learning.
Supt. Jason Golden recommended the measure for elementary-age students because most are still too young to get vaccinated. Masks remain optional for students in middle and high school, the Tennessean reports.
Parents on the losing side did not accept the vote quietly. Instead, they waited outside to shout down those who had opposed them.
Video shows one angry man chasing a parent to his car and then berating a police officer who stood in his way. Another man tries to calm the angry protester down, telling him the police are on “our side.”
“There is a place in hell for you guys,” the first man shouted at the parent in the car. “There is a bad place in hell and everybody’s taking notes, buddy. We know who you are! You will never be allowed in public again!”
The second man urges the first one to remain calm before telling the parent in the car: “You can leave in peace, but we know who you are.”
The school board acknowledged the anti-mask anger in a statement issued after the protest.
“Our parents are passionate about their children’s education,” the board said. “With that said, there’s no excuse for incivility … Our families and staff represent a wide variety of thoughts and beliefs, and it is important in our district that all families and staff have the opportunity to be represented and respected.”
The new mask mandate came into effect on Thursday and will be re-examined on Sept. 20 at the next board meeting.
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