Updated Aug 26, 2021 - Health

The fight over mask mandates in schools turns violent

Some 30 protesters rally with "let them breathe" signs

Some 30 protesters rallied outside of Hewes Middle School in Tustin, California, on Aug. 13. Photo: MediaNews Group/Orange County Register via Getty Images

As children head back to the classroom, a "vocal minority" in the U.S. have resorted to violence or disruptive measures to protest against mask mandates in schools.

Driving the news: While the majority of Americans support the mandates, per a recent Axios/Ipsos poll, back-to-school confrontations across the U.S. have gotten so hot that teachers and other officials have been punched, hit and screamed at.

What's happening:

In Florida, police arrested and charged the father of a Florida high school student with child abuse on Wednesday for allegedly pushing a schoolgirl during an anti-mask protest, per NBC News.

  • Police said a Fort Lauderdale High School student objected to Dan Bauman filming them as part of his stunt and tried to grab his phone.
  • The 50-year-old then allegedly pushed a schoolgirl into a fence and twisted her arm "in an aggressive manner" before school officials stopped him.

In Texas, Tom Leonard, the superintendent of Eanes Independent School District, wrote in a note to parents and staff last week that the return to school has been marked by "a few sad moments."

  • One parent in the Austin-area district allegedly assaulted a teacher by ripping off her face mask, while others yelled at another teacher, claiming they couldn't understand what she was saying due to the face covering.
  • "This is everywhere," Leonard told NPR, saying that he'd spoken to education leaders in California, Illinois and New York who've experienced similar issues.

In Northern California, a parent allegedly left a teacher bleeding and requiring hospital treatment — after the parent tried to attack the principal over masks and the teacher jumped in, KCRA-TV reported.

  • “The teachers have definitely been on edge. They are fearful because the last thing they want is to have an issue with a parent,” Torie Gibson, superintendent of California's Amador County Unified School District, told AP.

In Kansas last week, officials in Douglas County were confronted by angry unmasked protesters who opposed an indoor mask mandate for 2- to 12-year-olds, invoking comparisons to the Taliban and leaders of Japanese internment camps, according to AP.

Even before students headed back to the classroom, school board meetings across the U.S. saw heated confrontations over whether masks should be required for students and teachers.

  • In Nevada and Pennsylvania, meetings this month devolved into verbal arguments so aggressive that police were called in.
  • At least 11 protesters who disrupted a Utah school board meeting in July are facing criminal charges, AP reported.

The big picture: Public health measures like mask and vaccine mandates have become a political flashpoint across the country even as COVID-19 cases surge nationwide due to the Delta variant.

  • Schools districts in Florida and Texas are defying executive orders by their state governors banning such mandates. Schools in Arizona and South Carolina are fighting similar bans.
  • Some colleges and universities, meanwhile, are instituting disciplinary actions against unvaccinated students.

Go deeper: America's patchwork back-to-school plan

Editor's note: This article has been updated to include details of the arrest at Fort Lauderdale High School.

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