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Vail Superintendent responds to protest, urges parents to focus on what unites them

Published: Apr. 29, 2021 at 12:45 PM MST|Updated: Apr. 29, 2021 at 12:33 AM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) -The Superintendent of Vail Unified School District (VUSD) spoke publicly for the first time following a large protest.

On Tuesday, we heard from parents on both sides of the mask issue.

Wednesday night, Superintendent John Carruth shared a message with Vail parents and the public.

“In the Vail School District, we seek to provide parents with safe and nurturing school communities,” he said. “We have long valued and respected parental choice. We have long valued and engaged listening to our parents. This past year has been incredibly intense and emotional. Providing education during this pandemic has produced an endless series of new challenges that must be overcome. It has brought about many equal, yet opposite, truths. We have always welcomed the voice of parents in shaping critical decisions within out district. We should be able to conduct safe meetings where parents, students, staff and school board members feel they can have thoughtful conversations to discuss various issues before the board.”

However, that was not the case at the regular governing board meeting on April 27.

Close to 100 people gathered at VUSD, calling on board members to lift the mask mandate at schools. Many packed into the lobby before the meeting. Frustrated parents wanted to be heard, but they were joined by others from outside the district.

“Unfortunately, a group of people who live outside our county attempted to take over our board meeting last night,” said Carruth, “leaving our actual parents without the opportunity to address the board. They have valid, honest concerns that they were bringing forward.”

The board was not going to vote on its mask mandate at the meeting, only discuss it. With some protesters armed and staff quickly losing control of the situation, the board canceled the meeting.

“It was frightening for many of our board members and our staff,” Carruth said.

Carruth and two board members did meet in private with five families from the rally.

Some protesters held their own election in the lobby and streamed it online, claiming the mask mandate had been dropped.

“It’s a publicity stunt,” said Carruth. “A new board needs to be voted through a due elective process by the voters of this community.”

He now urges families to focus on what unites them, not what divides them.

“The love for our children, they deserve an end to the school year with the least amount of disruptions,” Carruth said. “All mitigation strategies, including the use of face coverings, are temporary measures. This pandemic and these mitigation strategies will pass.”

Vail plans to reschedule its meeting for next week, which will still be open to the public. There’s no word on if the discussion item will be brought back. For now, VUSD’s mask mandate remains in place until it expires in June.

“This pandemic has taken a toll on all of us, but we cannot let it take our civility,” Carruth said.

Meanwhile, Tanque Verde School District canceled its school board meeting Wednesday night after hearing about another planned protest. Officials say the decision was guided by law enforcement.

TVUSD Alert - April 28th Board Meeting Canceled The Tanque Verde Unified School District has been made aware of the...

Posted by Tanque Verde Unified School District on Wednesday, April 28, 2021

In response to the protest, Pima County Sheriff’s Department released the following statement:

“We were at [Vail Unified School District] to ensure that the protest remained peaceful and assisted in facilitating communication between some members of the crowd and the school board.

Through our communication with the Tanque Verde School District today, they expressed concern in reference to tonight’s meeting and the potential for protests. Based on those concerns our recommendation to the district was to postpone the meeting.

The Sheriff’s Department fully supports individuals who lawfully exercise their first amendment rights. We ask in the event individuals do plan on attending protests, that they do so peacefully. If you witness any suspicious behavior please call 9-1-1 immediately.

Our commitment remains to the safety and health of the citizens of Pima County.”

Copyright 2021 KOLD News 13. All rights reserved.