AUSTIN (KXAN) – This week in central Texas, at least two school board meetings dissolved into chaos as districts worked to navigate COVID-19 security protocols, specifically whether they will enforce mask mandates, despite the order executive of Governor Greg Abbott.
On Monday night, several people were escorted out of a Leander ISD board meeting, according to people at the meeting and videos obtained by KXAN, despite warnings from leaders of its previously published agenda announcing that people who were causing inconvenience would be removed.
This is exactly what ended up happening.
“I don’t think a general reminder at this point helps us at all, I don’t think it is really helpful to take pleasure in respectful interactions before I end up giving a warning and asking for withdrawal if you interrupt the meeting,” said one of the members. the board while the parents kept shouting.
A day later, the Round Rock Independent School District had to cut a meeting after being interrupted several times by angry community members. Several people were upset that they were not allowed to enter the main room for the meeting, which at one point was blocked by police.
A Round Rock ISD spokesman says they allow the room to be filled as much as possible while complying with social distancing guidelines. Once the room was filled, people were put in an overflowing room, where they could watch the meeting on TV and enter the main room to talk, if they signed up to talk.
Community members were dissatisfied with this, citing the open registration law.
Aside from politics and opinion, there seems to be some confusion about what a school board and the police can and cannot do, according to the law on open meetings and within the limits of freedom of expression. We moved the concerns of community members to UT law professor Steven Collis to break down what the Open Meetings Act means to you.
Can I be legally escorted from a public meeting?
Collis: In general, people cannot interrupt the meeting, there are reasonable times allotted for people to comment and if it prevents a meeting from running by shouting, shouting or violence or anything like that, that at this time may be escorted out.
Can the school district set up overflowing rooms and need some people to see from there?
Collis: I don’t know the exact details of how the overflow room was set up (in Round Rock ISD), but certainly sometimes government officials have to set up overflow rooms, it’s the only possible way, not just in the COVID era, but even others if there is a very hot button problem and there are too many people who can fit in the main room.
In general, the goal is, and I think this is consistent with the requirements of the Open Meetings Act, is to make sure that those in the other rooms can see what is going on and hear them, and in then have a chance to come in and submit your public comments. . As long as they are given this opportunity, you will surely be able to do so in a compatible manner.
Is freedom of speech the conversation between board members and other speakers during a school board meeting?
Collis: The government may establish reasonable restrictions on time, place and manner of speaking. And most importantly, for the functioning of government, you need to be able to limit the time of comments and when people can make comments and try to keep them on the subject.
Normally, in such meetings it has been considered that two or three minutes is a reasonable restriction of time, place or manner. No doubt you could see a scenario in which the government limits so much time that it becomes irrational and for a judge to rule against them. Nor can they allow everyone to attend for 15 minutes, or some of these meetings would last between 24 and 48 hours.
How can I find resources to find out if my rights are being violated or not?
“This won’t sound incredibly deep, but a simple Google search gives you some really good resources,” Collis said.
One such resource is the Attorney General’s Office Handbook on the Open Meetings Act 2020. You can find this handbook here for more information on the Open Meetings Act.