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Board meeting to discuss Portland Public Schools student vaccine mandate moved online after people refuse to wear masks

A handful of people removed their face coverings as the meeting was getting started, prompting the board to suspend the meeting for about an hour.

PORTLAND, Ore. — A Portland Public Schools (PPS) board meeting to discuss a possible student COVID-19 vaccine mandate was briefly suspended Tuesday evening after some people in attendance refused to wear masks. 

The biggest item on the agenda was discussion based on public feedback on the proposed mandate to require PPS students 12 and older to be vaccinated against COVID-19. The school board is scheduled to vote on the mandate Nov. 16. 

Most of the chairs were full at Tuesday's in-person board meeting. Several people showed up early, many of whom held anti-mandate signs. 

As the meeting was getting started, board chair Michelle DePass told everyone in the audience to put on their face coverings. She said unless the board got 100% compliance with the statewide rule, the meeting would go virtual. 

Within minutes, the meeting was put on pause and leaders were ushered out of the room. The meeting resumed online at 7:15 p.m. 

In a statement released Wednesday afternoon, PPS Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero said some people in attendance also directed racist comments and PPS students and staff.

"Last night our students and staff were also confronted with the use of offensive racist language," Guerrero said in the statement. "Hate speech is not tolerated in our community. This incident is an affront to our core values of racial equality and social justice, respect, honesty and integrity."

Guerrero said the racist incident was documented and the school district is addressing it according to district protocol. He said the district is offering supportive services to any staff members or students impacted by it.

Read the superintendent's complete statement at the bottom of this article.

During the meeting, district officials stated 63% of people that provided written feedback on the mandate support it. A majority of the board members expressed support for mandate as well, but there's been no vote yet. Leaders still have a lot of questions about how it would be implemented and what type of exemptions would be allowed. 

The board was previously scheduled to vote on the mandate Nov. 2, but decided to push the date back two weeks to gather more information. 

Hours before the meeting, more than 200 students at Grant High School hosted a walkout to voice their support for a student vaccine mandate.

Below is the complete statement by PPS Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero:

"Last night, the PPS Board of Education was scheduled to meet in person for their regular meeting. A student vaccine requirement discussion on the agenda drew a large number of attendees, many without a shared concern for the health and safety of our collective community. Some of those attendees entered the PPS building masked, then took their masks off and refused to comply with PPS requests for all attendees to adhere to the statewide mask requirement. After failure to comply, Board Chair Michelle DePass suspended the Board meeting and moved it online shortly thereafter. Even after the board meeting resumed, unmasked attendees remained inside the building.

"We are deeply disappointed that some attendees blatantly disregarded the statewide face covering requirement, creating a public health hazard for Portland’s students, families, staff, members of the media, and board members. This is simply unacceptable. While we welcome a diversity of perspectives to be expressed in a public setting, Chair DePass made the right call in moving the discussion to a virtual setting, given the unwillingness of certain members of the audience to observe required public health requirements. One important value of our district is to promote civil public discourse. And we support our students in continuing to build their engagement as civic leaders.

"Last night our students and staff were also confronted with the use of offensive racist language. Hate speech is not tolerated in our community. This incident is an affront to our core values of racial equity and social justice, respect, honesty and integrity. We value and respect everyone in our school community and understand that our diversity makes us stronger. Everyone is welcome at PPS and everyone belongs. Everyone deserves an environment where we can discuss the issues that impact us and where we can feel safe and secure. Our goal is to cultivate an environment of respect and a sense of belonging. This incident was documented and we followed our protocols to address this. We are offering supportive services to staff impacted by this, and have been engaged in supporting students and staff to navigate civic unrest in our PPS Civic Engagement and Unrest Toolkit."