The Warwick School Board added language last week to its public participation guidelines for board meetings after a previous meeting was disrupted by community members.
At the Nov. 1 Committee of the Whole meeting, a member of the public interrupted a speaker who was questioning the board about guidelines used to select school library books, accusing another parent in the room of making accusations that she was using drugs during the meeting.
The parent was removed from the board room and escorted outside of the building by a security guard, continuing to use vulgar language outside the building. The parent left before police were called to the school.
During another speaker expressing disagreement over the removal of books from the school libraries, another parent blurted out an obscenity from the audience, leading to admonishment from the board.
At the Nov. 15 board meeting, School Board President Todd Rucci read out the new guidelines created by the district and posted in the board’s agenda before the meeting.
“Based on the events of the last board meeting, where an individual disrupted the meeting and resulted in additional conversation immediately outside of our meeting room, it is necessary for the Warwick Board of School Directors to place additional requirements on those in attendance to maintain order,” the district stated in the agenda notes.
The new guidelines laid out several new procedures, including:
- Talking during the meeting. There will be no talking in the audience during a board meeting.
- A security officer will be stationed in front of the audience during the meeting.
- The security officer and/or any board member or administrator may signal the board president
of talking in the audience by raising their hand.
- Individuals who talk during the meeting will be asked to state their name for the record and
given a warning. If that individual speaks again during the meeting, they will be asked to
leave the meeting.
- Individuals who refuse to provide their names will be asked to leave the meeting
The Board Policy 903 dictating recognition of citizens at meetings now states that, “This Board welcomes and invites public comment, questions and concerns. However, the board requires a level of respect and decorum during board meetings and proceedings as well as a process for accessing specific information, followed by all school districts in Pennsylvania.”
According to Policy 903, the presiding officer of the meeting may now:
- Interrupt or terminate a participant’s statement when the statement is too lengthy, personally directed, abusive, obscene, or irrelevant.
- Request any individual to leave the meeting when that person does not observe reasonable decorum.
- Request the assistance of law enforcement officers to remove a disorderly person when his/her conduct interferes with the orderly progress of the meeting.
“Moving forward, the board will no longer allow comments that violate this policy, and will exercise its rights to remove individuals from both virtual and face to face meetings,” the policy states.
Lititz resident Mark Mueller said he was impressed that in less than two weeks the board was able to “hammer out objective consequences for bad behavior.” Mueller said for months the board has “hemmed and hawed over the meaning of the words ‘appropriate’ and ‘inappropriate’” regarding books in the school libraries.
“All of a sudden now you are the arbiters of things such as appropriate decorum,” Mueller said. “And you’re demanding the same respect as a judge might during a legal proceeding.”
Mueller said using the descriptors “abusive, obscene and irrelevant” used in the board’s guidelines regarding language demonstrates that the district can identify inappropriate language. He said he hopes now the district will be able to turn the descriptors inwards to policies enacted in the schools.
“Imagine if that same determination and resolve were applied to the comings and goings inside our school buildings,” Mueller said.
Lititz resident Tannia Carpenter said she was concerned by some of the language regarding “remarks and behavior during public comment,” saying if an individual’s comments are abusive, obscene or irrelevant, they’ll be asked to sit down and noted in the record.
“I hope I’m misunderstanding that rule, because it almost sounds like you’re saying at your discretion you can interrupt a taxpaying community member’s speech and stop them from continuing,” Carpenter said. “Rules for public comment must respect the First Amendment rights of speakers.”