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School board members ask for law enforcement help after string of threats, disruptions

"We've never dealt with an escalation like this before," said Dr. Darshana Patel with the Poway Unified School Board.

SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — After months of dealing with meeting disruptions and personal threats, school boards across San Diego and beyond are asking for help. Most of the backlash is related to mask and vaccine mandates.

School board meetings across the country have turned into yelling matches. In some cases, people have been assaulted.

“We’re not used to this level of harassment, verbal abuse and threats,” said Dr. Darshana Patel, a member of the Poway Unified School Board.

Dr. Patel is also president of the San Diego School Boards Association.

Last month, her board was forced to end its meeting after protesters barged in.

In San Diego County alone, Dr. Patel said about 10 districts have recently had disruptive meetings, making it difficult to do their jobs.

"There's important time-sensitive information going on for the business of our school district and when our meetings get disrupted like this we can't perform that business and it's our students who suffer ultimately," said Dr. Patel.

The California School Boards Association sent a letter asking both Governor Gavin Newsom and Attorney General Rob Bonta to encourage local law enforcement agencies to step in, saying they do little to help because there's no standard protocol.

"This is not the norm, but we're seeing more cases that we’re more than comfortable with where when the law enforcement agency does report, they're not enforcing the mask mandates or compliance with other laws," said CSBA spokesperson Troy Flint.

Flint said it's not just about disruptions at meetings. School board members have been threatened, even followed.

In Coronado, following a tortilla throwing incident at a basketball game, a school board member's address was posted online, and tortillas were left on her windshield.

Both Flint and Dr. Patel said intervention is needed now before things get worse.

"We want them to recognize there's a serious issue and take action that could prevent a tragedy," said Flint.

"First amendment is a beautiful amendment.  It allows the public to speak, but not when it endangers the lives of others," said Dr. Patel.

The National School Boards Association has also asked President Joe Biden for help investigating the violent incidents and suggested the FBI monitor threats to board members.

Poway Unified sent a letter to parents on Monday which read:

"Dear PUSD Families,

In light of recent protests at our district office as well as our school sites, we want to assure you that we are taking all of the necessary precautions and providing support to our campuses and site administrators to ensure the safety and security of our students and staff. We appreciate your partnership and vigilance as we work together to prevent disruptions to our students' learning and protect the day-to-day business and operation of our schools. Just as we tell our students, we ask that if you see something, say something; please let your site administrator know if you become aware of any disruptions that may be planned.

While freedom of speech and expression are important rights to preserve, California Penal Code 627 restricts the access of unauthorized persons to school campuses to guarantee all students and staff the right to attend safe, secure, and peaceful public schools.

As such, any substantial and willful disruptions to school operations, such as disturbing a public meeting or the school day; blocking entrances, exits, traffic lanes; intimidating or harassing staff or students; inciting illegal or dangerous behavior; or trespassing onto school or district property is against the law. School and district property begins at the outer boundaries of the parking lot and outside of any perimeter fencing.

California Penal Code 627 states it is a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment in the county jail not to exceed six months, or by a fine not to exceed five hundred dollars ($500), or by both, for an outsider to fail or refuse to leave the school grounds promptly after the principal, designee, or school security officer has requested the outsider to leave. 

Additionally, Education Code 32210 holds that any person who willfully disturbs any public school or any public school meeting is guilty of a misdemeanor, and shall be punished by a fine of not more than five hundred dollars ($500).

We have partnered with local law enforcement agencies, including the San Diego Police Department and the San Diego County Sheriff's Department, to ensure our schools remain safe learning environments for our students and staff. Trespassers on school property could face criminal charges. We appreciate your understanding and cooperation as we continue to maintain our focus on the education and wellbeing of our students."

WATCH RELATED: Caught on camera: Women rip down state mask signs at two North County High Schools