Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District Board of Trustees haven’t been able to hold a January meeting – having to abruptly end their meetings twice this month because people refused to wear masks.

Issues like masks and vaccine mandates, as well as ethnic studies and critical race theory, have been flashpoints of debate among district trustees, parents, students and teachers throughout districts in OC.

But Placentia-Yorba Linda district is the only one that cancelled meetings for people not wearing masks.

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After trying to meet again last week, Board President Carrie Buck adjourned the meeting less than three minutes after it started.

“I’m also seeing that people aren’t wearing them correctly so at this time I’m going to adjourn the meeting,” she said at Wednesday’s meeting.

Footage posted on social media showed some people in an uproar after Buck’s decision to once again end the meeting.

One man in the audience could be heard shouting that the abrupt adjournment was illegal.

“This is not a dictatorship. We have democratic rights, you can’t just do that. It’s a violation of California law,” he said. “We will prosecute you Carrie Buck. We will prosecute you. We have involved the OC District Attorney’s office.”

Kimberly Edds, a spokesperson for the County’s DA office, did not respond to request for comment about the issue.

In a Thursday email, district spokesperson Alyssa Griffiths said the meetings were adjourned under state law and board bylaws.

Other parents in the district like Misty Janssen applauded Buck for ending the meetings over people not wearing masks or not wearing them properly.

In a Thursday phone interview, she said some people are treating board meetings like “Tuesday night at the Apollo” or the “Yorba Linda Improv.”

“I’m glad that she’s taking control back of the board meetings,” Janssen said about Buck. “Good order and discipline have to be maintained.”

“People are watching and pointing and laughing and it’s embarrassing,” she said.

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After the adjournment, Trustees Leandra Blades and Shawn Youngblood held an impromptu town hall in the meeting chambers.

Some people called for Buck to be removed from the board and for District Superintendent Jim Elsasser to be fired.

Based on the live stream, people at the town hall and the two trustees were not wearing masks, despite the state mandate.

The school board passed a resolution calling for optional masks last year and also got COVID relief money through the state’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund.

Youngblood said the superintendent and district staff didn’t tell him the state money had stipulations regarding COVID protocols, like enforcing the mask mandate.

He also said they can put a freeze on the roughly $20 million they were allocated from that fund, which is intended to help schools amid the impacts of the COVID pandemic.

“We spent $2 million of it, we got $18 [million] left and if it requires us to send it back to the state … because of the ​​extenuating circumstances that go along with it, so be it,” Youngblood said.

In a Thursday email, district spokesperson Griffiths said even without the money, the district would still abide by mask mandates and other pandemic measures from the state.

Before the meeting ended, Blades tried to speak without a mask on but was stopped by Buck.

Blades later said she wanted speakers to be able to take off their mask to let people who are hard of hearing be able to read their lips.

“The idea that that is the reason that she wanted them to take off the masks – I think it’s disingenuous at best,” Janssen said.

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On the agenda for a meeting that keeps coming to a premature end is a resolution calling on Gov. Gavin Newsom to reconsider an expected vaccine mandate for students.

The meeting was initially set for Jan.11, but Buck adjourned the meeting less than five minutes after it started because people refused to wear masks.

The meeting was then rescheduled for Jan. 19, which ended the same way.

It also comes as Orange County wrestles with its fourth COVID surge and local school districts are reporting hundreds of covid cases as well as dealing with staff shortages.

At both meetings, Buck reminded people that the state has implemented an indoor mask mandate through Feb. 15 and asked everyone to put an appropriate mask on.

“It should be noted that mesh masks are not acceptable per Dr. [Clayton] Chau from the Orange County Health Care Agency,” she said Wednesday, adding there were masks available in the lobby.

Blades, at the impromptu town hall, claimed Chau has not issued a statement about mesh masks not being allowed on school campuses in OC. 

Chau did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.

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She also said some staff and students have been called out for wearing mesh masks, while students without masks weren’t.

At the meeting, Blades also showed a picture of district students in a gym watching a basketball game hunched up together without masks on and questioned why one kid that same day was pulled out for wearing a mesh mask.

Youngblood said there needs to be a clear and concise policy on masks and what’s not allowed.

State guidelines recommend surgical masks or higher level respiratory masks like N95 with a good fit.

“Local school districts can provide their specific mask guidance,” reads an email from the California Department of Public Health.

Placentia-Yorba Linda district officials addressed the mesh mass in a letter earlier this month.

“It should also be noted that masks with holes and mesh masks are not acceptable,” reads the letter. “Anyone wearing a mask with holes or a mesh mask that does not comply with the CDPH masking guidance above will be provided a compliant mask to wear.”

Janssen said mesh masks are being worn to create an illusion that people are following the mask mandate.

“To pretend that a mesh mask is anything more than a middle finger to the mask mandate is silly. They wear it so that they can pretend like they’re following the rules.”

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at helattar@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.

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