Anti-vaxx parents mock immunocompromised child speaking at school meeting

‘You can’t hear in the video, but the crowd made a lot of comments as they took their seat,’ reporter says

Gustaf Kilander
Washington, DC
Tuesday 26 October 2021 15:14

Anti-vaxx parents mock immunocompromised child speaking at school meeting

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Parents reportedly jeered at an immunocompromised student after they spoke in favour of mask mandates at a school board meeting in Clovis, California, prompting the district to promise that changes will be made to ensure that everyone speaking at meetings feel safe.

Buchanan High School senior Rami Zwebti was booed after they spoke during the meeting on Wednesday, The Fresno Bee reported. Zwebti identifies as non-binary, according to the outlet.

“We sit here arguing about a piece of fabric that weighs 12 grams while millions of families lose their loved ones,” Zwebti said. “Set aside your pretentious arrogance and think of those you hold dear. Think about how you would feel if they were suddenly taken from without warning, without mercy.”

“I’m sick of hearing abled individuals complain about masking and vaccines. Your ignorance and privilege speak volumes,” they added.

Superintendent Eimear O’Brien told The Fresno Bee that she had asked Clovis Unified School Board President Steven Fogg to “re-examine his current meeting protocols to ensure our students feel safe when attending future board meetings”.

Ms O’Brien said Dr Fogg had said that he would contact Zwebti “to convey his commitment to the creation of a more respectful environment in the future”.

“We WILL not tolerate the mistreatment of our board members, parents or students who speak at our board meetings,” Dr Fogg told the local news outlet.

“As an immunocompromised individual, I am placing myself in danger by being here,” Zwebti said during the meeting. “Due to the nature of immune diseases, we are not able to identify someone as ill simply by looking at them. That means anyone can be at risk. Anyone can be in danger – your neighbours, your employer, your friend, your child’s teacher.”

They added that they had watched protests against vaccines and masks turn violent and lead to “a complete loss of democracy. I hope that the people in this room are mature enough to not behave in such a manner”.

One person at the meeting told Zwebti to sit down while others jeered and booed, the paper reported.

The student told The Bee that they left the room crying to sit in the looby because of feeling overwhelmed at the negative response to the speech.

A woman speaking at the podium against protective measures asked if everyone should stop drinking water if one person is allergic to water.

“I think this is a prime example, we need to teach the constitution more in schools,” one parent said to cheers from members of the community.

Ms O’Brien told The Bee that what Zwebti faced was “disturbing and utterly unacceptable”.

“Members of my administration, along with our onsite police officers, immediately stepped in last night to make sure our student knew that our team was present to protect and support [them],” she said. “In Clovis Unified, we have always been committed to creating an environment where everyone feels able to share their opinions, to be heard, and to do so without fear of bullying behaviour by members of the public attending our meetings.”

She added that she reached to Zwebti to thank them for sharing “an opinion that [they] knew was counter to others who have spoken at prior board meetings”.

The student told The Bee that officials had spoken to them to “make sure I was safe, which helped a lot since I did not feel comfortable after giving my speech”. They added that they had been mocked at previous meetings for wearing a dress while arguing that the dress code should be changed.

Fresno City Councilmember Miguel Arias tweeted on 21 October that anti-maskers had been directed to the meeting after the Fresno County Board of Supervisors passed a measure that supported local control over restrictions and rules relating to Covid-19. Local schools still have to follow state laws.

Fresno Bee reporter Ashleigh Panoo tweeted that she watched Zwabti “leave the boardroom last night after being booed out by parents. So I went out to talk to them about how they were feeling. You can’t hear in the video, but the crowd made a lot of comments as they took their seat”.

School board meetings have become a hotbed of political polarization across the US, with some parents being outraged at the ways they think race and history are being taught in schools, as well as at Covid-19 restrictions faced by students and staff.

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