The father of an elementary school student allegedly attacked a teacher during a dispute over a mask mandate on the first day of school in California, a superintendent said.
Police said they are investigating the incident that occurred at Sutter Creek Elementary School on Wednesday. After reviewing the case, the district attorney will determine whether to file criminal charges against the parent.
Torie Gibson, the superintendent of the Amador County Unified School District, told BuzzFeed News that she believes the father should be charged with a felony.
"A parent took it upon himself to verbally assault a principal that led to a serious physical altercation between him and a teacher as the teacher intended to protect the principal," Gibson wrote in a letter to families informing them about the incident.
"Assaulting a staff member will never be tolerated on any school campus, and will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law," she wrote.
In an interview on Friday, Gibson acknowledged that parents were "very divided" over the state-mandated policy that requires all students and staff members to be masked when indoors.
"We can have our differences. But we can't have violence on our school campuses," she said.
Gibson said the father of the student was running late to pick up his daughter and showed up about an hour after school had ended on Wednesday.
When his daughter and the principal — both of whom were masked — came out of the school building, "the dad went totally crazy," Gibson said, after he saw some staff members in the teachers' lounge who were not masked. (The policy does not require teachers who are fully vaccinated to wear masks when there are no students around.)
While Gibson did not witness the incident, she was told that the father was shouting at the principal about why his daughter had to wear a mask and that there were "double standards." He said things like "kids are treated like animals," Gibson said.
After the principal walked away, the father called the school district office and yelled at some of Gibson's staff members about the mask mandate.
He then returned to the campus and went to the principal's office, she said.
A male teacher, who had witnessed the previous verbal altercation, followed the father after realizing that the principal was alone in her office.
The father stepped toward the principal while continuing to confront her over the mask mandate, Gibson said. When the teacher stepped in the middle to protect the principal, the father allegedly struck the teacher multiple times, according to Gibson.
After the father left the campus, another staff member called the police. The Sutter Creek Police Department said officers were dispatched to the school "regarding a disturbance between a parent and a staff member concerning COVID-19 procedures and facial maskings."
The teacher ended up with a "couple of lacerations to his face and head, bruising on his face, and a large knot at the back of his head," Gibson said. He was taken to the hospital and released later that night.
Gibson said she offered the teacher some time off after the "pretty traumatic" incident, but he was back at work on Thursday. "He's all about the kids," she said.
As for the parent, he will be getting a letter notifying him that he is not allowed on the school campus, Gibson said.
The incident has left the school staff feeling "unsettled," she said. "They're worried. They're fearful."
She said threatening statements over masks mandates from the community have been turned over to the authorities. Staff members have reached out to multiple law enforcement agencies to ask for increased security presence around schools, "at least until the dust settles," Gibson said.
In her letter to the families, Gibson reminded them that the schools were not the ones making the rules and mandates, but they were required to enforce them to keep schools open.
"We know emotions are high and conversations are intense," Gibson wrote. "I beg that we do our best to set all feelings aside and look at what is best for students."
Gibson told BuzzFeed News that guidelines around masks are constantly changing without a thought about how the repercussions affect school staff.
"Educators are not seen as frontline workers, even though we have been from day one of this pandemic," she said. "We have taken some of the hardest hits across the board with the least amount of support and this is the perfect example of that. It's been a rough 18 months."
The political and cultural war over mask-wearing has led to many verbal and sometimes violent confrontations during the pandemic. Essential workers have often been the victims of this politicization, with some losing their lives over it.
The anger and confusion over the renewed push for wearing masks in light of the infectious Delta variant has led to anti-mask protests often led by parents furious about having to mask their children.
Republican leaders in states like Arizona, Texas, and Florida have banned schools from implementing mask mandates, even as some school districts defy their orders. In Florida, which is struggling with one of the worst COVID outbreaks in the country, Gov. Ron DeSantis threatened to withhold the salaries of school leaders who defy his order prohibiting mask mandates.
In her letter, Gibson urged parents to not let their emotions get the best of them.
"If I ask nothing more of you this school year it is this. Take a breath, pause, listen, and walk away if necessary."