Chaos at Washougal School Board meeting ends in arrest

Washougal officials cancel meeting and call police after attendees refuse to wear masks, vandalize district windows and board members’ vehicles

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The Washougal School District Administrative Offices are pictured Tuesday morning, April 14, 2020. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian)

Washougal School Board members said they were forced to end their May 11 meeting early after several residents — who had been asked to leave the in-person meeting after they refused to wear face coverings in accordance with the school district’s COVID-19 safety protocols — began writing on district windows and board members’ cars parked outside the meeting room.

“There was an incident with some individuals being disruptive by refusing to wear masks, yelling and writing on windows with washable window markers,” Washougal Police Chief Wendi Steinbronn said. “The main problem person was criminally cited for disorderly conduct, and all three were trespassed from the property.”

Washougal Police Department officer Ashley Goulding arrested Camas resident Tatyana Stepanyuk on disorderly conduct charges, and issued trespass warnings to Stepanyuk and Washougal residents Patricia Bellamy and Melissa Mcilwain.

Board president Cory Chase ended the meeting early, saying he wanted “to allow the board and staff to contact law enforcement and work with them to deal with the vandalism of the building and cars.”

“Most of the board members and many staff members wrote statements about the incident for law enforcement and needed time to consult with the responding officers,” said Chase, a Port of Portland police officer. “While I do not believe we were in danger, the escalating pattern of behavior by these individuals, in my judgement, warranted the vote by the board to stop the meeting to involve the Washougal police rather than trying to finish the agenda.”

Goulding wrote in a post-incident report that when she arrived on the scene, she noticed the words “tyrant” and “commie” written on several car windows and the word “crook” on one of the building’s windows.

“I told Tatyana the police probably would not have been called if she had not (written) on the windows,” Goulding wrote. “She said, ‘It washes off easily.'”

As the meeting was set to begin, Chase called for an adjournment due to “disruptions” caused by attendees Mcilwain, Bellamy and Stepanyuk, who refused to wear a mask in defiance of the district’s COVID-19 safety protocols. The board members moved into another room and Washougal schools superintendent Mary Templeton asked the disruptive attendees to leave.

“(Stepanyuk) was not complying with the rules for attending in-person,” said Les Brown, the district’s director for communications and technology. “She was asked to leave, refused, and the board took action to clear the room.”

Stepanyuk, Mcilwain and Bellamy returned to the building after learning the meeting had resumed, according to Goulding’s report.

“They had been instructed to leave and did drive away, but returned and tried to re-enter the meeting without masks on,” Chase said. “They were not allowed to enter and began engaging in behavior intended to disrupt the meeting, including the vandalism of the building, yelling at the board and staff through the widows, knocking loudly on the door, and then vandalizing several cars in the parking lot.”

Bellamy wrote in a witness report that she asked if they could be let back in, but “one of the board members came over and shut the window on us and continued the meeting.”

A few minutes later, Chase called for a vote to end the meeting early.

“All the ladies expressed that they believed the behavior of the individuals running the meeting was wrong and believed it to be criminal,” Goulding wrote. “It appeared to them that there was an agenda to remove them, as they did not agree with the decisions being made by the public school (dstrict). Tatyana was frustrated that she and the other parents were not allowed to have a voice.”

Stepanyuk did not respond to the Post-Record’s request for comment.

Mcilwain wrote in a witness report that “we came to vote against the (equity) mandate, and since walking through the door we could sense we were not wanted.”

In a statement posted to the district’s website on May 12, school board members said they “will not tolerate the acts of vandalism, disorderly conduct or intimidation.”

“These are not effective means of informing our civic process,” the board members stated. “The board will continue to seek support from local law enforcement in fully prosecuting any acts of vandalism or disorderly conduct related to official board business. Community members engaging in these acts undermine the ability of the board to do the work of the public, and endanger themselves and others. This activity also impedes other community members from safely participating in the board’s meeting.”

The Washougal School Board resumed its in-person board meetings on March 9, after nearly a year of remote-only meetings. Board members, district officials and attendees are required to wear face coverings at all times during the meetings. The district is continuing to livestream its meetings so members of the public who do not wish to attend in-person can still participate.

“The Washougal School Board of Directors welcomes public comment at school board meetings, and values the input from community members,” the board stated on the district’s website. “The board likes to hear from and listen to our community. The board appreciates those who come forward to share feedback and recognizes that there are many perspectives that can help inform our civic process.”

Members of the public who refuse to adhere to COVID-19 safety protocols will be asked to leave the in-person meetings, the board members added, stating: “When community members refuse lawful requests to vacate the board room and district property, and seek to disrupt the orderly business of the board, the board will seek support from local law enforcement, who will force non-compliant community members to leave.”

The board said it will conclude unresolved business from the May 11 meeting at a future date.