Jake Brydon of Marble Falls spoke to about 150 people in front of the Marble Falls Independent School District administration building at 8 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 1. The group gathered in protest of a mask mandate for students and staff approved by the school board Monday, Aug. 30. Staff photo by Suzanne Freeman
The Marble Falls Independent School District Board of Trustees will meet again in the next week to have an open discussion with parents about how best to stop the spread of COVID-19 on campuses, board President Kevin Naumann told people protesting the district’s mask mandate Wednesday, Sept. 1.
After the morning protest, Naumann told DailyTrib.com that he and Superintendent Chris Allen are each preparing separate email messages to send to the community in the next day or so outlining expectations between now and the next meeting.
“My letter is focused on how do we come alongside one another and listen to one another and develop common solutions we haven’t thought about,” Naumann said. “How do we do this as a community. There’s no room for being angry at one another.”
About 150 people gathered in front of the MFISD administration building at 1800 Colt Circle at 8 a.m. Wednesday holding signs decrying a recently board-approved mask mandate that went into effect that day. The mandate is only for the month of September, after which, the board will reassess the situation.
At the protest, Superintendent Allen passed out donuts while board member Alex Payson distributed water and chocolate chip cookies to people standing on a patch of grass across the street from the administration building.
Naumann was also on hand, taking the microphone several times to answer questions.
Allen addressed the crowd at a protestor’s request. Later, he spoke to emphatically respond “No!” when accused of planning to change the district’s dress code to include masks. He also explained that students not wearing masks would not be punished or ridiculed.
A local pastor spoke to quiet those shouting remarks as Allen tried to speak.
“We are down here to take a stand and to do it with a good heart,” said Jeremy Cotton, pastor at Hill Country Fellowship. Cotton has three children in the district in the seventh, ninth, and 12th grades. “We’ve had a lot of contact with the district and a lot of good conversations with the district. We are just trying to start a conversation.”
He described dropping off one of his three children at school that morning. He asked a teacher if they were going to have an issue with his child not wearing a mask. He was told no, then a person standing next to the teacher tried to hand his child a mask.
“Dr. Allen,” he called out loudly. “That’s unacceptable. It ain’t gonna work. Here’s our donut back to you. Get with your school board and immediately repeal this unlawful mandate.”
Brydon continued in that vein, accusing the administration and the board of instilling fear in order to gain control over their lives and the lives of their children.
“The reason they want you to be fearful is because they want to control you,” Brydon said. “‘If you don’t wear a mask, you’re gonna kill Grandma. If your kids don’t wear a mask, we’re not going to be able to have school.’ Well, you’re the reason people are gonna die. You’re the reason. It’s all about control,” he said, pointing at Allen.
“Some people have the pastor’s heart and some of us are called to be the sharp end of the stick,” he continued.
Those in attendance called out comments of support or opposition when people spoke. Many held their phones high overhead, recording speakers and posting photos and comments on Facebook. Others were on Facebook Live.
Naumann spoke toward the end of the hour-long gathering.
“I want you to know you’ve been heard,” he said. “It’s not personal, and I’m so glad many of you said something like that because it has gotten personal and it has hurt my heart.”
The goal, he said, is to elevate the conversation so the community can look at solutions together.
“I don’t like masks either — I’m not wearing one now,” he said. “But what we were faced with was the decision to close the campus — campuses, actually … ”
At this point, he was cut off by people yelling over his remarks. Others in the crowd quieted down the disgruntled so Naumann could be heard.
“We either close the campuses or try something that might work, so we did,” Naumann continued. “That might have been the wrong decision. I want you to know that you were heard. You are loved. We are trying to do the best we can.”
Several people noted that they would have been at the first school board meeting if they had known masks were on the agenda.
Agenda item No. 2 for the Aug. 30 meeting read: Presentation/Discussion Items and Possible Action, A. MFISD Health & Safety Plan — Dr. Allen.
“That’s how it read last time we talked about masks and COVID-19 protocols,” Naumann told DailyTrib.com after the protest. “The conversation on Monday, and the one we will have next week, is not specifically about a mask or not. It really is about a health and safety plan. The mask is only a piece of that. Last year, when we had a mask mandate, it was posted the same way.”
A date and time for next week’s meeting will be published on DailyTrib.com as soon as details are available.