Cobb school board updates conduct rules for public meetings

The Cobb County Board of Education approved a new set of rules for those who attend its public meetings.

The rules meet a requirement set by the Legislature this year. But they also come after a group of community members stood and chanted at a July meeting in an effort to delay the board’s eventual approval of a policy that allows employees who are not school resource officers to carry weapons.

The rules prohibit “disruptive” behavior. In addition to potentially removing anyone causing a disruption and suspending them from future meetings for up to 60 days, the board could opt to move to another location and continue the meeting virtually.

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Board members Jaha Howard and Leroy “Tre’” Hutchins were hesitant about the new rules. On Thursday, they proposed several changes that would give less leeway to the board chairperson to decide what is considered disruptive.

“I think you have a lot more confidence in the board chairperson than I do because you have not been on the receiving end of being shut up,” Howard said to board chair David Chastain. Howard, along with the other two Black Democrats on the board, complained to accreditation agency Cognia that the four white Republicans who make up the majority were “silencing” them. The agency later advised the board to learn to work together.

A new law gives local boards until Oct. 1 to approve rules regarding public comment. Democrats said the law was redundant. But Republicans who proposed the bill said it would prevent parents from being treated unfairly because of their political views. School board meetings nationwide have become an arena for people to debate issues around race, gender and politics. Superintendent Chris Ragsdale said that hasn’t been an issue in Cobb County.

“Generally speaking though, in my history, I’ve never seen the chair have to do anything other than say, ‘We need to have order,’” he said.

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At the July meeting where attendees stood and chanted, board members briefly left the room before returning and finishing the meeting.

The rules were approved with a slight amendment suggested by Hutchins and Howard. It specifically prohibits abusive, obscene, profane, vulgar, defamatory or slanderous language or gestures, threats, blocking the entrance or exit of any person, and jeers, shouting or disruptive noises.

If those rules are violated, the board chair could issue a verbal warning or direction, recess or adjourn the meeting, remove someone from a meeting and prohibit them from attending future meetings, involve law enforcement, or continue the meeting virtually.

Board member Charisse Davis voted against the policy.