MURRIETA, Calif.—California state Sen. Melissa Melendez (R-Lake Elsinore) showed up to a packed school board meeting in Murrieta, California, a city of about 110,000 people in southwestern Riverside County, on Feb. 10 to back more than 150 parents, students, and community leaders fighting mask and vaccine mandates.
Melendez denounced the Murrieta Valley Unified School District Board of Education for not taking a stand against Gov. Gavin Newsom’s edicts and warned that if they didn’t, there would be consequences.
“The state is making mandates. You as a school district don’t want your budgets to be affected, but I will tell you this: You have a choice,” she said. “You can defy the governor’s mandate and stand up for these kids, or you can choose to side with the governor and the teachers’ union. The choice is yours, but I am telling you these parents are going to take notice and I hope you remember that.”
Melendez also accused board members of not listening to parents and pandering to the California Teachers Association.
“Shame on you for limiting public comments tonight,” Melendez said. “I will find out who has taken donations from the [state teacher’s union], and I will make sure your constituents know—all of them. I hear from them constantly. And they are not happy with your silence.”
Melendez acknowledged the board is in a difficult position because it could face funding cuts if it disobeys the mandates, but she urged board members to do so anyway.
“You may not agree with what’s going on, but nobody would know that because you’re silent and your silence is deafening. You need to speak up. If you don’t agree with these mandates, you better let your constituents know because from where we sit, we think you agree with [them],” she said.
Gavin Brown, a 14-year-old student in the district, told the board he had suicidal thoughts during the lockdowns last year and now with mask mandates.
Brown told the board he is currently being sent to a special room on campus—known as the “On-Campus Intervention” room—every day for refusing to wear a mask.
“How much have the suicide rates gone up during COVID?” he asked trustee Dr. Takesha Cooper, a physician who specializes in pediatric and adult psychiatry.
“During COVID I have had suicidal thoughts,” he said. “It is very hard for me to speak about this, but I’m doing it anyway, because I pushed through it, and I had family and friends to support me who wanted me to keep going. And now all my friends have turned on me and told me to put my mask back on just so … I can be back in class. And that is the reason why I’m speaking here today.”
His parents, Cory and Aimee Brown, were at the meeting to support him.
Cory Brown said it’s time for the mask mandates to end.
“The whole thing is ridiculous. It’s about choice,” he told The Epoch Times after the meeting.
“Our laws say that a mask is a medical device, and we can choose whether we want to use a medical device or not. We have that right.”
Brown said it concerns him that the dictates, at his son’s school and others, are coming from Washington, D.C.
“They use the California Department of Public Health guidelines, which they copied and pasted from the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidelines. So now we have a federal entity telling county public health how to … deal with this situation.”
A fourth-grade student told the board she and her mom decided to homeschool so she didn’t have to wear a mask, after her school’s principal told her she could stay in the classroom but only in the back of the class surrounded with plexiglass.
“I thought this is weird because I [would be] still in the class with all my peers around me, but with the shield in front,” she said.
Recently, about 45 students who refused to wear masks were isolated in the multi-purpose room at school, she said.
“When I went to school, I hated it because I had to wear a mask,” the student said. “I know others are going to decide to go to mask-free schools or homeschool, too.”
Pastor Tim Thompson, who founded a Christian church in the area and is a father of two, said the board members were spineless.
“I want to applaud all of the children who were courageously going to school without a mask,” he said. “I’m really sorry for them that they had to do that for themselves, and none of you had the backbone to do it.”
According to Thompson, a campaign has been launched to oust all school board members in November.
District Superintendent Patrick Kelley said he empathized with parents, but placed the blame on state legislators in Sacramento.
“I think one of the worst things that California has done in the handling of this—and by California I mean this was born out of Sacramento,” he said. “We are certainly at a point where conditions are changing, and it’s time for the masks to come down.”
Earlier in the day, Melendez and other Republicans called for an end to Newsom’s State of Emergency and special emergency powers but the effort was voted down along party lines.
Republicans lawmakers wore masks showing the infamous photo of Newsom posing maskless with basketball legend Magic Johnson at the National Football League’s National Football Conference championship game on Jan. 30.
Newsom declared the state of emergency in March 2020. He hasn’t indicated when it will end.
Laura Kingman, organizer of a parent group called Murrieta for Freedom, told The Epoch Times after the meeting that it’s “absolutely time” to end the state-imposed mandates.
“Seeing the governor at the playoff football game, unmasked with Magic Johnson, who is an immunocompromised AIDS survivor or is living with AIDS, raises a lot of questions. It’s a lot of hypocrisy,” she said. “If he can go to a football game with 70,000 to 80,000 people and give his ‘Woe is me’ apology, which was very arrogant, why can’t our kids go to school without masks?”
Kingman said she supports freedom of choice when it comes to masks and vaccines.
“And that’s OK. It doesn’t make me irresponsible. It doesn’t make me dangerous, a domestic terrorist,” she said.
Kingman said an elderly man who came to the meeting cried and said the similarities between what’s happening in America today and communist Cuba, the country he fled, are scary.