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Tue, Dec. 07

1 arrest after several men confront Tucson principal over COVID-19 mandates

TUCSON – Several men objecting to an Arizona elementary school student being required to quarantine and miss a field trip because of a possible contact to the coronavirus threatened to make a citizen's arrest of the school principal while at least one brandished cable ties, school officials said Friday.

The principal called police Thursday after she met with the men and they then initially refused to leave, and a Police Department spokesman said at least one person was later arrested and accused of trespassing.

“The principal through training and her own personality did an excellent job of making sure that tensions didn’t escalate,” Vail Unified School District Superintendent John Carruth told The Associated Press.

The arrest is the latest in a number of confrontations and other encounters in school settings around the country over virus-related rules.

Tucson police went to Mesquite Elementary School on Thursday because of “a report of a fight brewing" and a 40-year-old man later was arrested and given a trespassing citation, said Officer Roman Acosta, a Police Department spokesman.

Acosta, the police spokesman, declined to provide additional information on the incident Thursday, saying details could be obtained through a public records request. The Police Department did not immediately respond to a records request submitted by The Associated Press.

School officials said the 40-year-old man is the father of the student who was directed to quarantine and missed the field trip. Court records didn't list an attorney for the man who could comment on his behalf.

Another man among those who went to the school and who posted video of the encounter with the principal on social media did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

School district officials said three men, who had the student with them, went to the school office to protest the school's enforcement of directives from Pima County health officials to help combat the spread of the coronavirus.

The principal met with the people in her office for about 20 minutes before asking them to leave, which they refused to do, Carruth said. “I have asked you to leave the office," the principal at one point calmly tells the men, according to video posted on social media.

“No, we're not leaving," a man's voice responds. “You're trying to control the situation. You're not going to control the situation."

After the principal left the office and called police, the people left before officers arrived, Carruth said.

With the people threatening to make a citizen's arrest and the brandishing of cable ties, Carruth said the decision to call police was appropriate under the circumstances amid isolated flare-ups of tensions related to the pandemic.

Still, most people, while frustrated by the continuing impacts of the pandemic, are supportive of each other and the school system, he said.

“The tactics are escalating but I wouldn't say there is a broader need to raise concern," he said. “The solution and the lesson and the silver lining in this (incident) is it calls attention to the need for all of us to seek to listen with the intent to understand.”

This wasn't the first virus-inspired confrontation involving the Vail district, which serves an area on Tucson's southeastern outskirts.

In April, the district board ended a study session and then canceled a regular meeting after dozens of parents protested the district’s refusal to lift its mask mandate aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19. Sheriff's deputies were summoned to help keep order after protesting parents, many not wearing masks, pushed their way into the board room.

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