Much has been written about the meeting of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) held on Wednesday, August 18th. Predictably, and right on cue, the major media faulted the parents in the room for refusing to wear masks and for disrupting the proceedings. At least, that was the official justification for the abrupt adjournment of the meeting which BESE’s officers put out last Sunday, August 22nd, which statement I quote in part:
“The vote (to adjourn) was called after groups of protesters spent hours disrupting the meeting with shouts, outburst, and refusing to comply with the Governor’s mask mandate for government buildings. The adjournment finally came after repeated requests for compliance and order and an offer of a separate room, with live streaming availability, for those requesting medical exemptions.”
I am sure that the video of that meeting has since been viewed hundreds of times by interested parties, from Governor John Bel Edwards on down. I have watched the video twice myself. I must say that I have a different take from the media and the BESE officers as to what happened.
Now the anger and frustration of the parents certainly did become evident the longer they waited on the one issue of concern to them. That was only to be expected considering the gravity of the issue and their continuing frustration at living under emergency decrees issued by one man, Governor John Bel Edwards, for over a year and a half. That is a long time to have one’s life impacted so severely and intimately, especially for people raised in a democracy who have heretofore controlled their own destiny. To prove my point, pause for a moment and mentally transport yourself back in time just two short years. Think about it- the situation which brought those folks into that meeting room last week would have been unimaginable in the summer of 2019.
In that time our governmental, medical, and journalistic “elites” have let us down repeatedly. Remember their ever changing counsel to the American people: From don’t worry about Coronavirus to worry a great deal about Coronavirus; from masks aren’t necessary and don’t work anyway to masks must be worn everywhere; from keep the sickened elderly in their nursing homes to get them to the hospital right away; and on and on and on. Then consider the government’s increasing intrusion into our daily lives, and the lackey media’s mindless support of this loss of basic freedoms. Yes, the common, ordinary folks in that room were mad, and rightly so.
But to return to the meeting itself. The media has portrayed the crowd as a group of crazies (read Republicans) constantly interrupting the proceeding with screams and shouts. The fact is that the great majority of the crowd was patiently sitting and waiting for several hours for the one item on the agenda which concerned them: Whether the Governor or the board had the final say in ordering K-12 students to wear face masks. John Bel believes he has this authority, but the Attorney General of Louisiana, Jeff Landry, has issued a legal opinion that BESE must make that call. In the meantime the board conducted routine business until it went into executive session on another matter and then convened in a back room, out of the public’s eye, for an hour and a half.
When the board reconvened in the public meeting room, a board member promptly suggested that it was time for lunch, thus adding fuel to the fire. A short time later the board adjourned before medical witnesses and crowd members could testify, because most of the crowd refused to wear masks. But the crowd for the most part had not been wearing masks for several hours at that point. Why did the board suddenly become insistent about mask wearing? After all, the board members themselves were wearing masks and the medical witnesses would presumably have worn masks. They would have been reasonably well protected, right?
Perhaps it was the phone call from the Governor’s office which prompted the adjournment. That call was received while the board was mulling over the situation in the back room. The Governor surely wanted the meeting canceled, and would have strongly urged BESE to do just that. After all, the last thing John Bel needed was for the folks to have their say, and to actually make the case against requiring five year olds to wear masks for many hours at a time in the heat of summer. Why they could even blame the crowd for adjourning!
So the board took the easy way out and adjourned the meeting. It never got around to the mask mandate for K-12 students, and per Sunday’s statement from the BESE’s officers, there are no plans for another meeting. Yet the unaddressed questions remain: What official or agency has authority to decide on the K-12 mask mandate? Will the mandate be enforced on a local or statewide basis? Is a mask mandate for children advisable, or even lawful?
And then on Tuesday, August 24th, I was very pleased to read that House Speaker Clay Schexnayder had weighed in on the matter. He declared outright that the BESE meeting was a disaster, which it surely was. He further stated that he had asked legislators to contact BESE members and urge them to hold another meeting. (This BESE members can do on twenty-four hours notice.)
Clay Schexnayder is correct- that meeting should take place as soon as possible. The LAGOP fully supports Speaker Schexnayder in calling for BESE to have that meeting. Of course, all parties should be respectful when the meeting takes place. Even then the meeting room will not likely be a pleasant place, but that is how democracy works. However, the stakes are far too high to leave these issues unresolved. That much is clear.
LOUIS GURVICH, Chairman
Republican Party of Louisiana