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Trustees may update policy governing visitors to school district property

By Jeri Chadwell

Meetings of the Washoe County School District (WCSD) Board Policy Committee tend to be more sedate than regular meetings of the board of trustees. However, Tuesday’s meeting—during which the committee considered revisions to policies governing visitors to district property as well as equity and diversity—was anything but sedate.

Many of the same public commenters who’ve become fixtures at WCSD board of trustees meetings were on hand to speak against social justice, equity and diversity policies.

Protesters opposed social justice curriculum outside recent WCSD Board of Trustees meetings, including on June 8, 2021. Image: Eric Marks / This Is Reno

Chief Strategies Officer Paul LaMarca and Equity and Diversity Director Tiffany Young reminded the committee and public commenters that the requirement for school districts to look for disparities in opportunity and address them dates back at least two decades to the era of former President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act.

The committee approved sending the revised language in the equity and diversity policy, board policy 9210, back to the board for consideration at a future meeting in a 4-3 vote. Some commenters asked when the public will get a chance to weigh in on the policy. 

If the board gives preliminary approval at a future meeting, the public will have a 13-day comment period before the trustees make their final decision. This is standard practice.

Commenters concerned on limits to school access

Public commenters were also upset about discussion of possible revisions to board policy 1505, which governs visitors to district property–including at schools and meetings of the board of trustees. 

Chief Communications Officer Michele Anderson explained to the committee that the revisions, which were requested by the board in April, will update the definition of trespass and clarify the scope of the policy. 

Public commenters took it as an attempt to limit their access to meetings and schools.

The policy states clearly that visitors are encouraged and welcomed. Its aim, according to staff documents, is seeking “to achieve a balance between the potential benefits associated with the presence of visitors at District properties and programs/events while avoiding disruption to the educational process, and protecting the safety and welfare of students and employees, as well as District’s facilities and equipment from misuse or vandalism.”

One public commenter asked if it would bar parents or members of the general public from coming to schools. She said she felt taxpayers, even those without children, should have a right to visit schools to see what’s being taught.

“You pay taxes to the police departments. You don’t get to just go where you want there.”

The district’s chief legal counsel, Neil Rombardo, explained that being a taxpayer does not convey such rights without limitation.

“The perfect example of that is you pay taxes for the federal court house. You don’t get to walk into the judge’s chambers. … You pay taxes to the police departments. You don’t get to just go where you want there,” he said.

Trustee Jeff Church asked how the policy would pertain to “free speech zones” located just off school property. He wanted to know if there would still be places “where you could set up a table and hand out flyers, say, at the parking lot entrance.”

This has been done recently by adults looking to give students and parents a flyer promoting Reno area attorney Joey Gilbert’s alleged plan to sue the school district over issues ranging from its social justice curriculum to the acoustics in its auditoriums. A number of these instances have been documented online and by This Is Reno readers.

The flyer also encourages donations to Gilbert’s political action committee. Political activity on WCSD property is prohibited by board policy 1310.

Other portions of visitor policy questioned

Church also said he had a question about a section of the policy pertaining to banning “surreptitious” recordings on school grounds.

A notice warning about trespassing and rules for visitors posted outside McQueen High School. Image: Carla O’Day

“Don’t ask me how to pronounce it,” he said.

“Surreptitious? Uh huh. Ok, go ahead,” Board President Angie Taylor responded.

Church said he wanted to know if this would ban things like parents recording video on their cell phones of musical or sporting events. He asked why it was in the policy.   

Rombardo defined surreptitious. He said it’s in the board policy as a legal requirement in the state and—no—it would not pertain to recording things like plays, musicals and games.

Vice President Andrew Caudill, who is resigning from the board in days, said he had a problem with a part of the policy stating, “The district shall not bar members of the general public from attending meetings of the board without prior knowledge and approval of the President of the Board.”

He wanted clarification regarding what circumstances would warrant barring a person and for how long.

Anderson and Rombardo explained that it would have to be for a valid legal reason. Anderson gave the example of a person against whom a district staff member has a temporary restraining order. That person would be barred until the restraining order expired. 

Rombardo gave the example of someone who is “slanderous, belligerent, repetitious to an extreme extent and all of those terms that we talk about in the open meeting law” during public comment at a board meeting. That person might be barred for the duration of that meeting but not longer.

Church said repeatedly that he feels an appeals process for barred people is necessary.

Rombardo disagreed. He said adding one would be unnecessary and would complicate the policy. A temporary restraining order is decided upon by a judge, not the board of trustees. 

An appeals process for those barred temporarily as a result of their behavior or language at board meetings would require adherence to additional provisions of state law and the noticing requirements when a public body intends to make judgments upon a person’s competence and character. 

It would become very difficult to manage, Rombardo added.

Church doubled down on his desire for an appeals process, saying, “Again, my concern: Jose Cuervo comes in, speaks, maybe with a little help from alcohol, and then he gets barred. And he says, ‘I want an appeal.’ Doesn’t he get one?”

After further discussion, during which both Taylor and Rombardo also threw out the “Jose Cuervo” example, Caudill made a motion to word the section of the policy as: “The board president shall not bar members of the general public from attending meetings of the board without legal cause.”

The motion passed 6-1 with Church as the lone nay vote.

Proposed revisions to board policy 1505 will go before the board of trustees for preliminary approval and will then be subject to a 13-day public comment period.

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