Sep 19, 2022 - News

Cobb school board approves rules to stop disruptions

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

Cobb County's Board of Education will crack down on people who curse, shout and disrupt their meetings.

What’s happening: Senate Bill 588, which was passed by the General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Brian Kemp, requires local boards of education to adopt rules outlining how people should behave during public meetings.

  • Local boards have until Oct. 1 to comply with state law.
  • Cobb’s board on Thursday approved the policy, with Charisse Davis casting the lone dissenting vote.

Why it matters: The district’s new policy prohibits use or display of abusive or offensive language; blocking a person’s entrance or exit; threats; and “jeers, shouting, disruptive noises or any other means an attendee may use to disrupt the meeting.”

  • It also calls for several ways to address the disruption, including removing the person causing it, pausing the board meeting until order is restored and moving board members to another location to hold the meeting. Audio and video of the meeting will be provided to the public.

What they’re saying: During the board’s work session Thursday, superintendent Chris Ragsdale said no one has the constitutional right to disrupt a meeting.

Yes, but: Board member Leroy “Tre” Hutchins said some of the language in the bill is “problematic” because he wants the public to feel like their voices are valued, even if he doesn’t agree with what they have to say.

  • “I would hate to ever be seen on TV escorting a citizen, a taxpaying citizen of Cobb County, out of this room for exercising their constitutional right, even if it's disruptive,” he said.

The other side: Cobb resident Jennifer Susko told board members during its regular meeting that instead of “getting flustered,” the board should be more responsive to the people they represent.

  • “The jeers, shouting and other disruptive noises only occur because y'all refuse to respond to your constituents in any normal way,” she said. “As many people have said tonight, most of us would rather not be here all the time disrupting.”

The intrigue: The vote came after two meetings where some members of the public shouted from the audience in response to what was happening.

  • In July, several people shouted "delay the vote” because board members didn't get any community input on the district’s plan to arm non-police employees in schools.
  • Last month, a few members of the public loudly expressed shock that a woman was allowed to recite a Christian prayer during public comment.

Context: School board meetings across the country in the last two years have been subjected to disruptions from the public over masking policies and critical race theory.

  • In Georgia, meetings in Gwinnett and Cherokee counties were shut down after members of the public disrupted proceedings.
  • In May, the uproar over books in school libraries deemed by some to be inappropriate for children led to spectators being removed from the Forsyth County school board meeting.
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