On Sept. 10, the first day of in-person classes for Fountain Hills Unified School District students, Sheriff’s deputies were called to McDowell Mountain Elementary School in anticipation of a confrontation with a parent over his child not wearing a face covering.
“The school requested deputies be present in the morning as…they anticipated a potential issue with the father of this child due to prior contacts with him,” an MCSO statement said. “Deputies were present to keep the peace, should the father make a scene if the school turned the child away if he showed up to school without a mask.”
The father, J.J. Anaya, told The Times he had gone to the school three weeks prior with a doctor’s note stating his son was exempt from having to wear a face covering. According to Anaya, school personnel copied the note and gave no indication that there was any issue or that there was anything else he needed to do regarding the matter.
On Thursday, four of Anaya’s children were picked up by the school bus, including the child in question. Anaya said he showed the doctor’s note to the bus driver, who allowed the student to ride and had him sit at the front of the bus.
Anaya said after he returned home, he received a call from the school saying he should come and pick up his son because he was refusing to wear a face covering.
When Anaya pointed out he had a doctor’s note, he said he was told the school would not honor it. He took video of the scene when he arrived to pick up his son and posted it to Facebook.
According to information provided by MCSO, the father was told the note did not constitute an exemption to wearing a mask.
“The school informed (Anaya) that while the child might not be required to wear a mask, other options were available to be taken to provide a safe environment, such as a face shield, per school policy,” reads the report.
MCSO was told by school officials that the father had previously been verbally aggressive toward school staff and the school wanted to avoid a scene or confrontation with the parent.
In the video posted on Facebook by Anaya, there is no indication that there was any physical contact between deputies and Anaya or his son.
Later in the day on Thursday, school officials asked MCSO to trespass Anaya from all school property, which means he could be arrested if he returns to the school. Deputies presented the trespassing notice to Anaya at his residence.
Anaya said the situation is indicative of a larger issue that McDowell Mountain Elementary School is refusing to accommodate students with special needs.
“I have had 12 parents reach out to me that went through the exact same thing,” Anaya said. “I don’t want any kids to experience what my son experienced. If no one wants to be the voice for this issue, then I will be it.”
McDowell Mountain and other FHUSD schools require a face covering of some sort for staff and children five and up in accordance with state Executive Order 2020-51.
In return to school documents that were shared with families before reopening, the District stated that there were exceptions for a person who cannot wear a face covering through an accommodations analysis process.
MCSO District 7 Capt. Larry Kratzer stated that MCSO will not be enforcing this issue on school property.
“Schools are handling this internally through whatever mechanisms they have in place,” Kratzer said.