A group of impassioned protesters entered the Mammoth Unified School District offices and banged on windows, causing frightened employees to lock the doors and call police on Friday, November 19.
This prompted the Mammoth Unified School District’s Board of Education to hold an emergency meeting on Monday afternoon to discuss the event and future emergency protocol.
Attendees of the meeting included Mammoth Police Chief Al Davis, Town Attorney Andy Morris, Mono County Public Health Director Bryan Wheeler, and Mammoth Unified School District Superintendent Jennifer Wildman.
The protesters were in opposition to the district’s impending Covid-19 vaccine mandate, which requires that all students aged 16 and above provide proof of having received both doses of the Covid-19 vaccine by December 17, 2021.
Students who do not comply with the mandate will not be permitted to participate in any in-person school activities – this includes attending dances or participating in athletics.
The news of the mandate sparked passionate dissent from some community members. Several had attended the Board of Education’s regular meeting on Thursday, November 18. According to Superintendent Jennifer Wildman, at least five people exhibited “extremely lewd behavior” during this meeting.
On the morning of Friday, November 19, a group of about 30 protesters gathered near the school’s crosswalk at the corner of Meridian Boulevard and Sierra Park Drive to protest the mandate. They carried signs regarding vaccine mandates and masking, and passed out flyers to passersby.
After the school drop-off time was over, they left.
They then came back at the end of the school day to do the same thing.
“During the morning and afternoon protests, the group assembled peacefully, held up their signs, and there was no significant interruption to traffic,” said Wildman.
Then around 3:30 p.m., about 20 protesters approached the district office with accompnying signs, dogs, and children.
This subsequent demonstration escalated to the point where the crowd of protesters entered the office building and confronted the only two staff members present at the time: Superintendent Jennifer Wildman and Accounting Technician Amanda Taylor.
“At the time I really thought they were going to remain outside and protest peacefully just as they had done earlier in the day,” said Wildman.
Wildman had locked the office doors as a precaution, however the lobby doors were still unlocked. The group of protesters ended up coming into the building, including bringing their dogs.
Wildman and Taylor proceeded to call 911 Dispatch to ask for assistance. Within five minutes, police had arrived.
Sgt. Daniel Casabian and another officer arrived at the scene, and after discussing concerns with Wildman and Taylor, went back out into the lobby of the building and asked the group to leave.
It took approximately 5 minutes for the protesters to exit the lobby. They then proceeded to assemble again under the flagpole outside of the district office.
After consulting with the police, Superintendent Wildman agreed to go outside and talk to the people gathered.
“The 20 protesters were for the most part fairly respectful; they asked several questions and had several statements to make. Although, there were a few rude comments made such as, ‘I don’t care where you’re from’ and ‘tell us the truth’ and there was a bit of yelling. It definitely wasn’t the most comfortable situation I have ever been in,” said Wildman.
Despite her discomfort, Wildman stated that she felt supported by the police department and proceeded to speak with the protesters, answering questions and concerns, for about 10 minutes.
By 4:30 p.m. the incident was fully diffused and the protesters, police, as well as Wildman and Taylor left the premises. They said they took alternate routes to their respective homes as a precautionary measure.
“Although there were no direct verbal threats pointed at us, it was a large group of people and there were several big dogs with them. And they banged on the windows and doors of the district office as well as filmed Amanda when she was trying to finish her work. It was definitely intimidating,” said Wildman.
Sierra High School, which operates within the same building, was not in session at the time. Wildman explained that if they were to have been, there probably would’ve been a lockdown issued.
“My concern is for student and staff safety. Our campus is a really safe place and we work hard to keep it that way. I want to assure that this doesn’t happen again to any of our staff or students,” said Wildman.
The School District has requested for bodycam footage in order to review the incident in its entirety. According to Chief Al Davis who’s already viewed the footage, “it appears pretty peaceful”.
“I know about protests, I come from Santa Cruz, that’s what we do. I appreciate peoples’ right to assemble, use their freedom of speech, and communicate what they’re concerned about. However, our students walk back and forth across the crosswalk to get to their classes, and it was a pretty intimidating group. We haven’t been able to get crossing guards for the winter, and I just want to ensure their safety and keep things peaceful,” said Wildman.
Wildman went on to say that she only recognized a handful of people in the group, so she assumes that there were people from Bishop and other places who also partook in the protest.
According to Wildman, the main concerns expressed from the group she talked to included: complaints about specific Mammoth teachers, questions about the Brown Act regarding public comments during board meetings, there being no FDA-approved vaccines to begin with, myocarditis forming from the vaccine as well as other health effects, and the supposed financial gain of the School District by having a vaccine mandate.
Wildman dispelled these concerns during Monday’s meeting.
“After speaking with them, it became clear that they did not feel heard. And that’s something we can talk about – how can we improve people’s confidence that we have heard them and we are listening?” asked Wildman to the Board.
Suggestions included providing faster response times to emails, and having the beginning of each board meeting start with the president listing out the trends of complaints, including the number and type of complaints received for that week.
“People feel extremely strongly about this, and I think that they are hoping to change minds. And if they can’t change our minds, they’re going to try and change parents’ minds and incorporate other people into their discussions,” said Wildman.
The Board went on to brainstorm different ways to move forward while ensuring the safety of staff and students on school grounds, including proposing a specific safety committee dedicated to managing protesters.