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Durango School District tightens meeting protocols after audience fails to comply with COVID-19 rules

District reverts to remote format for board meetings
Durango School District 9-R Board of Education will return to remote public participation at public meetings after the board canceled its Aug. 24 meeting because audience members were not following COVID-19 protocols. (Durango Herald file)

The Durango School District 9-R board decided to go back to its remote meeting format after audience members refused to comply with COVID-19 public health restrictions at Tuesday’s meeting.

The school district required all visitors, students and staff members to wear face coverings in the meeting and comply with a capacity limit. Some audience members, however, refused to wear the face coverings or leave to comply with the capacity limit. In response, the board canceled the meeting.

The meeting has been rescheduled to 5:30 p.m. Sept. 7, but this time, audience members will be able to join only by video, according to the district.

“We hope it’s temporary. We like the idea of being able to hold in-person meetings,” said Julie Popp, district spokeswoman. “This is not the ideal format. If we are able to resume in-person meetings, we would like to do so soon.”

Tensions have been high as the board finalized its public health policies ahead of the first day of school this week. At past board meetings, community members repeatedly interrupted to speak against policies like required masking for students, staff members and visitors.

At future meetings, board members, district personnel and guest presenters will attend in-person in the boardroom at the Administration Building.

Community members who want to participate will need to complete a public participation form 24 hours before the meeting. If someone faces technical or other issues accessing this public participation process, they can contact the district for special accommodations, Popp said.

The 24-hour public participation policy has been in place since at least 2010, although previous boards might have enforced it more strictly than others, she said.

“We aren’t limiting their rights to speech. They still have a way to do so,” Popp said.

Those who complete the form in time will be able to speak via Zoom, others can watch through the streaming service at durangoschools.org/stream.

Anyone who signed up to speak during the canceled meeting Aug. 24 will be able to speak during the Sept. 7 meeting. The agenda is also the same, Popp said.

“The building will be accessible, so they’re welcome to gather outside, if they so wish,” she said.

If community members enter the boardroom and begin to disrupt the meeting, it will be considered trespassing and the disruption of a public educational meeting, she said.

“If it got to the level where people were breaking, entering and trespassing, we would have to call Durango police and let them follow up as they see fit,” Popp said.

More information about public participation and meeting protocols is available on the Durango School District 9-R website.

smullane@durangoherald.com

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