Capistrano Unified School District Trustee Pamela Braunstein abruptly resigned from her seat Thursday, saying policies against the mask mandate proposed by some of her former colleagues and harassment from parents pushed her to leave.

Her resignation comes a day after efforts by three trustees to abandon mask requirements early failed at Wednesday’s meeting – 10 days before the statewide mandate is set to expire.

“Some of my fellow (Capistrano Unified) Trustees have been proposing policies that aren’t compliant with the law, which, if they were to succeed, not only hurt the District but put me in an untenable position ethically and professionally as an attorney,” Braunstein wrote in a Friday email to Voice of OC. 

Braunstein also said the continued harassment over her stance on masks caused her to fear for her safety.

“This, along with the never ending, organized harassment by a certain vocal minority led me to the unfortunate conclusion that I had to resign for the safety of myself and my family,” she continued.

Braunstein, who represented families in portions of San Juan Capistrano and Ladera Ranch, was one of four trustees who voted Wednesday against suspending mask enforcement early in the district, though she did not speak on the resolution at the meeting.

She’s not the first OC official to face harassment over their stances on COVID protocols and eventually quit. 

Early in the pandemic, former Orange County Health Officer Dr. Nichole Quick faced backlash over her local mask mandate tied to the Memorial Day 2020 reopening. 

The mask order sparked protests and prompted a public backlash, with Quick eventually resigning by early June after receiving scores of threats, including one then-County Supervisors Chairwoman Michelle Steel classified as a “death threat.” 

Orange County’s mask debate has popped up at various school boards, city councils and the OC Board of Supervisors since the pandemic kicked off two years ago

The failed attempts to drop classroom masks come on the heels of state public health officials announcing on Feb. 28 that the mask mandate ends after March 11. 

[Read: Orange County Students Can Ditch Masks After March 11]

School Board Meetings Across OC and the Country Face Intense Debates Over COVID Protocols

School board meetings across the country and in Orange County are becoming increasingly heated as debates rage on polarizing issues like mask mandates and ethnic studies courses.

These debates have become so intense that in September, the National School Boards Association called on President Joe Biden to intervene with what they say is a “growing number of threats of violence and acts of intimidation” towards students, educators and school board members.

Days later U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland released a memo essentially promising to act on those concerns and that he has directed the Federal Bureau of Investigation to convene meetings with federal, state and local leaders to discuss strategies in addressing the threats.

It remains unclear what has come out of those meetings and if there’s any ongoing investigations. 

Some parents criticized the move as government overreach and an attempt to intimidate them from speaking on issues they are passionate about.

[Read: OC Board of Education Opposes Nationwide Federal Probe of Threats Against School Officials]

Locally, parents, students and school board trustees across OC have found themselves entangled in a fiery debate over masks and expected vaccine mandates for students that has really amplified in recent months.

Protests over masking kids have taken place at schools, while some students have refused to mask and have been left outside the classroom.

School board meetings have routinely become filled with parents and some students speaking against mask and vaccine mandates – calling on elected officials to push back against them.

Other parents in favor of masks and vaccines have repeatedly told Voice of OC they don’t feel comfortable speaking up at meetings for fear of hostility from others.

Some parents threatened to pull their kids from school in protest and some are threatening teachers with lawsuits over mask enforcement.

A couple of local school boards, including Capistrano, have passed resolutions calling on the state to rethink their school mask mandate and make them optional for students.

Nonetheless, local districts have made it clear that they have to follow state guidelines on COVID.

[Read: OC Schools to Follow Mask Mandate as COVID Surges, Some Parents Rally Against Rule]

Capistrano Unified trustees are expected to consider whether to appoint someone to fill Braunstein’s vacant seat until the November election or hold a special election at their March 16 meeting.

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

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