The father of an Arizona elementary school student was arrested after he and two other men showed up to the campus with zip ties, threatening to make a “citizen’s arrest” on the school principal over a COVID-19 quarantine, school officials said Friday.
Diane Vargo, principal of Mesquite Elementary School in Tucson, said the parent came to her office Thursday with his son in tow.
The father was upset the child would have to isolate and miss a school field trip because of possible exposure to someone with COVID-19. She said two other men also “barged in.”
One was carrying “military, large, black zip ties and standing in my doorway.” Vargo said she tried to de-escalate the situation while explaining the school had to follow county health protocols.
“I felt violated that they were in my office claiming I was breaking the law and they were going to arrest me,” a visibly shaken Vargo said in a video statement released by the Vail Unified School District. “Two of the men weren’t parents at our school, so I felt threatened.”
In a video posted on social media, Vargo can be heard calmly asking them to leave. One of them replies they aren’t leaving because they’re not going to let her control the situation.
The principal called Tucson police.
School officials said the man arrested was the father. Vargo said they are pursuing charges against the other two men.
The arrest is the latest in a number of confrontations in schools around the country over virus-related rules.
School district officials commended Vargo’s handling of the situation.
“The principal through training and her own personality did an excellent job of making sure that tensions didn’t escalate,” District Superintendent John Carruth told The Associated Press.
Considering the threats, Carruth said the decision to call police was appropriate.
Most people, while frustrated by the continuing impacts of the pandemic, are still 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.”
Dr. Francisco Garcia, Pima County’s chief medical officer, declined to comment on the incident.
“We are still in the process of contemplating what our next steps are in terms of our individual response to that family in terms of their adherence to staying at home,” Garcia said.
This wasn’t the first virus-inspired confrontation involving the Tucson area school district, which is 130 miles (209 kilometers) south of Phoenix.
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.
Sheriff’s deputies were summoned to help keep order after parents, many not wearing masks, pushed their way into the boardroom.