School board meetings used to be known for meetings as long and dry as a summer in the West Texas region of Trans-Pecos. Instead, some school board meetings lately are as filled with thunder and lightning as an Upper Coast rainy season.
The cause of the fireworks: mask mandates.
As you will undoubtedly recall, Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order back in May that prohibited government entities (including school districts) from mandating masks as part of their efforts to deal with the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
Nevertheless, some school boards have ignored the order as they attempt to navigate safety protocols.
Several people had to be removed from a recent meeting of the Leander independent school board.
Days before the meeting, board leaders had cautioned the public that disruptors would be removed – which is exactly what happened.
After interruptions of the meeting by crowd members, a board member lamented that he didn’t “think a plea for “respectful interactions is really helping before I end up giving a warning and asking for removal if you are disrupting the meeting.”
Round Rock, too
A day later, the Round Rock ISD cut its meeting short after angry audience members disrupted the proceedings several times. Several were reportedly angry because they weren’t allowed into the main meeting room, which had been filled under social distancing guidelines (six feet of space between people).
Once police stopped more people from entering the main room and showed them to an overflow room, emotions began to boil.
The need for social distancing
A Round Rock ISD spokesperson said the spacing rule had to be observed because Williamson and Travis counties are in high Covid-19 risk phases.
Several people angrily claimed the board was violating the Texas Open Meetings Act. An ISD board member responded to the criticism by saying the board had not violated the law “in any way.”
Law professor explains
KXAN asked University of Texas law professor Steven Collis to address community members’ concerns about possible Open Meetings law violations.
Collis said that in general, people who disrupt meetings by “screaming or yelling or violence or anything like that” can be escorted out.
He added that sometimes overflow rooms must be added to handle large meetings and that officials have to ensure that those in overflow rooms can hear the meetings and have a chance to express their thoughts directly to the board under reasonable time limits.
“Usually, in these types of meetings, two or three minutes has been considered to be a reasonable time,” he said.
You can find the Texas Attorney General’s Open Meetings Act handbook here.