- November 25, 2021
Two mothers who oppose school mask mandates and Critical Race Theory in their children’s curricula were arrested Thursday at a school board meeting in Georgia.
The arrests happened one right after another near a security checkpoint with brand new metal detectors at the Gwinnett County Public Schools district headquarters, just before a school board meeting began.
The Gwinnett County school district, just northeast of Atlanta, is the largest in the state and serves more than 180,000 students.
The first woman to be arrested, Karen Pirkle, showed up at the security checkpoint without a face mask and was charged with violating a criminal trespass warning. Pirkle, a Snellville resident, had been issued the trespass warning last month after she flouted the district’s mask mandate and refused to wear a face covering during an October school board meeting.
At that meeting, several other parents joined Pirkle in taking off their masks and chanting, “unmask our children.” The meeting ended early, and Pirkle was banned from attending school board meetings for a year.
“After misbehavior at the last meeting, a criminal trespass warning was issued, and that’s a letter that basically explains you’re not allowed to come on GCPS property,” said Sloan Roach, a spokeswoman for the school district. “That was communicated with her and then she showed up tonight still attempting to come to the meeting, so she violated that order.”
The second mom, who was arrested moments later, said she had no intention of stirring the pot.
Brenda Stewart, a Suwanee resident, said she tried to help Pirkle while the latter was being arrested. Stewart said that as Pirkle was being handcuffed, she called out for someone to take her phone, and Stewart offered to take the phone to Pirkle’s husband. The two women did not previously know each other.
Stewart placed her purse on the security table and walked through one of the metal detectors to take Pirkle’s phone, but security officers stopped her over a pair of childproof kindergarten scissors she used for crocheting and had in her purse.
The security officer dug through her purse and held up the small pair of scissors, saying Stewart could not take them inside. Stewart reached out to show the officer that the blades were not real blades, at which point the officer “aggressively” yanked the scissors back, Stewart said. Stewart tugged back instinctively with “no forethought or malice,” she said. At that point, she said, another security officer behind her grabbed her, and officers slammed her against the wall. She was accused of scratching the officer with the scissors, a claim she called “patently false.”
Police arrested Stewart and charged her with willful obstruction of a law enforcement officer.
Both moms were both handcuffed for hours and thrown in jail, where they remained until about midnight. They were each fined $1300.
Stewart said she was never read her rights or told what she was being charged with until she was en route to jail.
The school district defended the way both women were treated.
“In both cases, laws were broken and our school resource officers responded appropriately,” Roach said.
Stewart spoke at a school board meeting several months ago, arguing against Critical Race Theory ideology being included in the curricula. She is also against Gwinnett County’s school mask mandate, which prompted her to start homeschooling her youngest daughter, 9. Back in April, a mom went viral for an emotional speech calling on the Gwinnett County school board to lift its mask mandate for young children.
Stewart told The Daily Wire that her arrest and the fallout has disrupted life for her and her family. She called for a public apology from the school district.
“My face is out there and my name as literally a crazy woman running through metal detectors with scissors,” she said. “If I can get arrested, anyone can get arrested.”
“What I would want right now is a public apology because it is the only thing that’s going to undo the damage that has been done in terms of my ability to get employment in the future,” Stewart said. “I’m going to have to go explain why I’ve been arrested, why I’ve been fingerprinted. I’m going to have to then explain how I really wasn’t a raging lunatic.”
Stewart said she went to the doctor because after hours of being handcuffed she had a pinched nerve in her arm that caused numbness and tingling.
“They were extremely rough in a way that no parent, no mother, or no woman should be manhandled by a huge group of men,” she said. “I mean, I did not have a gun. I did not have something that is a legitimate threat.”
The kindergarten scissors, she noted, are allowed on airplanes in carry-on luggage.
Meanwhile, her children now have nightmares thanks to the experience of reporters showing up and banging on the family’s door.
At least two of the five total members of the school board have been outspoken about “structural racism” in society.
“The truth of the matter is that the history of the confederate South still permeates our modern society. As indicated in the disparities and disadvantages of non-white people, America is a racist country,” board member Tarece Johnson wrote in a June 4 tweet.
Johnson is a “diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice professional,” according to her school board profile.
“… [I]t is hard to admit our culpability in a racist system we do not think we created,” Blair, who is the board’s first black and first openly gay board member, wrote in a June 11, 2020 letter to the community. He added that “we routinely ignore” black community members who argue that “structural racism exists and needs to be systematically addressed.”
On Tuesday, Blair announced that he will not be seeking reelection.
“Amid a global pandemic, historic elections, leadership transitions, racial reckonings, and orchestrated attempts to disrupt our progress, our Board has been successful,” Blair said in a statement.
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