Tension in Texas: What is and isn’t allowed at ISD board meetings under state law?

AUSTIN (KXAN) — In Central Texas this week, at least two school board meetings have descended into chaos as districts try to navigate COVID-19 safety protocols, particularly whether they will enforce mask mandates despite Governor Greg Abbott’s executive order.

On Monday night, several people were escorted out of the Leander ISD board meeting, despite warnings from their leaders, according to people at the meeting and videos obtained by KXAN. previously published agenda which warned that offending contacts would be removed.

This is exactly how it happened.

“I don’t think a general reminder at this point would totally help us, I don’t think a plea for respectful interactions would really help before giving a warning and requesting suspension if you’re interrupting the meeting,” one of the board members said as the parents continued to shout.

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A day later, the Round Rock Independent School District was soon forced to interrupt a meeting that was interrupted several times by angry community members. Many people were upset that they were not allowed in the main hall of the meeting, which at one point was blocked by the police.

A Round Rock ISD spokesperson said they are allowing the room to fill as much as possible while following social distancing guidelines. When the room was full, people were placed in an overflow room where they could watch the meeting on TV and come to the main room if they signed up to speak.

Tension in Texas: What is and isn’t allowed at ISD board meetings under state law?
Man walking out of Round Rock ISD school board meeting (KXAN photo)

Community members were not happy with this situation.open records act.

Politics and opinion aside, there seems to be confusion about what can and cannot be done by a school board and police under the Open Meetings Act and within the limits of freedom of expression. We took community members’ concerns to UT law professor Steven Collis to explain what the Open Meetings Act means to you.

Can I be legally escorted from a public meeting?

Collis: Generally speaking, people can’t interrupt the meeting, there are reasonable times when people can comment, and if they are disrupting the operation of a meeting by shouting, shouting or saying violence or something like that, then they can at that point. must be escorted out.

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Could the school district set up overflow rooms and require some people to watch from there?

Collis: I don’t know the exact specs of how the overflow room is set up (in Round Rock ISD) but certainly sometimes government officials have to install overflow rooms, not just during the COVID period but even other times this is the only possible way if there is really a hot button issue and it can fit in the main room too many if there are people.

The purpose in general, and I think this is consistent with the requirements of the Open Meetings Act, is to ensure that those in other rooms can see and listen to what’s going on and then still have the opportunity to come in and present their public comments. . As long as they are given this opportunity, you can certainly do it harmoniously.

Is it within the scope of freedom of expression to speak about board members, other speakers at a school board meeting?

Collis: The government may impose reasonable time, place and style restrictions on speech. And especially for the functioning of government you need to limit the time for comment and when people can comment and try to keep them on the agenda.

Usually, two or three minutes in such meetings has been considered a reasonable time, place or form constraint. I could see a scenario where the government limited time so much that it became unreasonable and a judge would decide against them. They also can’t let everyone go for 15 minutes, or some of these meetings take 24-48 hours.

How can I find resources to find out if my rights have been violated?

“This isn’t going to sound incredibly deep, but a simple google search will get you to some really good resources,” Collis said.

One such resource is the Attorney General’s handbook on the Open Meetings Act 2020. To learn more about the Open Meetings Act, here is the handbook.

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