The William S. Hart Union High School District governing board unanimously approved a declaration that would allow the board to abruptly pause meetings and continue them later in an online format should the live, in-person meetings become too disruptive.
In past weeks, the meetings have become raucous at times, whether the board was discussing the Hart High School mascot or dealing with the masking policies for campuses and during board meetings.
A number of public speakers in recent months have argued that the use of the mask is a free speech issue. The board and district administrators have continually beaten the drum and reminded people in attendance that they were enforcing rules that have been mandates from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.
During certain instances, board President Cherise Moore has asked the gallery to quiet down to allow speakers to have their turn, for others to not shout or undercut those at the podium while they’re speaking, or had to pause and wait for people to put their masks on while sitting in the boardroom.
On Wednesday, the board therefore voted — following a number of weeks in back and forths with members of the public during meetings and calls for order during the public comment sections — to give the trustees the temporary authority to recess the board meeting and continue it later in an online format should the disruptions become too constant.
“We understand the First Amendment, and the First Amendment, to be very clear, does not apply in instances when it puts the health and safety of other individuals at risk,” said Moore. “The obligation that we have is to protect the students and families within this environment during a global pandemic.”
“I know that we all have different feelings, opinions related to that, but we are required to enforce those requirements,” Moore added.
The Brown Act of the state of California holds certain stipulations for governing bodies to increase transparency by holding certain open meetings for the public to be able to watch, attend and/or comment. However, the board needed to strike a balance between enforcing the public health order while giving the public access to its meetings, Superintendent Mike Kuhlman said.
“We have no intention of wanting to have to ask people to leave,” said Kuhlman. “We are just asking for people, in order for us to be able to have this venue (and) to hear people’s input, to help us out by complying while you’re in the meeting. If that cannot happen, the board, now, will consider an option that will enable us … if folks that just refuse to comply, then we have an alternative.”
Those wishing to make public comment would then be able to — should the board make the decision to move a particular meeting online — allow people to use a computer terminal within the district’s office to use Zoom to make their public comment. The ability for the board to be able to do so will be in effect until at least the end of September and based on orders from Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office.
“Everybody has a right to speak, and I mean, everybody, and they have a right to speak without people in the seats or in the back, yelling or shouting them down. I want to hear all sides of the issue,” said board member Joe Messina. “So, I’m asking you to be respectful of those up here speaking. If you don’t agree with them, wait ’til later, write to the newspaper, what have you, we’ll speak to the issue, as well … So, just have respect for each other and we won’t have to go to a closed meeting.”