WALES — The Regional School Unit 4 board meeting Wednesday night ended before it was called to order in the Oak Hill High School gym after one man refused to wear a mask and several attendees heckled the board chairman.

Chairman Robert English declined to begin the meeting because one man was not wearing a mask. The rest of the attendees were wearing masks.

English asked that the man either put on a mask or leave the meeting. The man refused and told English that he is medically unable to wear a mask.

“Our policy is if you’re in the building you wear a mask,” he told the roughly 16 attendees. “When we do mask breaks, that’s under the control of the faculty at that time.”

“We’re on a mask break, let’s go,” one woman retorted. “Just go on, we’re going to sit here and argue, (it’s a) waste of time.”

Originally, the RSU 4 board members, who represent the towns of Litchfield, Sabattus and Wales, planned to listen to a couple of reports and approve first readings on the use of physical restraint and seclusion policy and procedures, according to the agenda.

Instead, the meeting ended just five minutes after it was set to begin. The gathering became increasingly tense as the man repeatedly refused to wear a mask and several frustrated attendees heckled English, who has served on the district’s school board for 25 years.

Some people accused the chairman of ending the meeting because he did not want to listen to their concerns.

“You’re going to run away? Run away, run away,” one woman said. “Man up, man up.”

“We can vote you out,” another woman said.

As English was leaving, Jennifer Smith handed him a petition titled “Freedom and Choices . . . No Mandates,” which calls on the board to reconsider its mask policy. The petition was signed by 40 people as of Wednesday night.

“We are requesting/demanding an ethical, unbiased, informed of all parties plan,” the petition reads. It accuses the board of failing to follow bylaws and states that the signees will use legal means if necessary to compel the school board to reconsider its policy.

“There’s a lot of passion,” Smith, the petition organizer, said in an interview. “A lot of parents are fighting for their kids’ freedoms and no masks and choices. We live in America, it is about choices and freedom.”

A police officer attended the previous three meetings, but was not present Wednesday until after the meeting ended. Several board members requested that he escort them to their cars.

“This is behavior that we’ve never seen before,” Superintendent Andrew Carlton said after the meeting.

Other school boards have dealt with similar situations. In RSU 16, a Minot woman told the school board that requiring students to wear masks is akin to the tactics of sexual predators who abuse children. In Auburn, a man said he would sue the School Committee for requiring masks for elementary school children.

Several School Board members and the superintendent said the next meeting may be held over a Zoom videoconference to prevent confrontational situations, although no decision was made Wednesday night. Information about future School Board meetings can be found on the district’s website.

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