Gwinnett school district to use metal detectors at board meetings

210617-Suwanee-The Gwinnett County Board of Education generally meets on the third Thursday of the month. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
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210617-Suwanee-The Gwinnett County Board of Education generally meets on the third Thursday of the month. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

Gwinnett County Public Schools today will begin requiring those who wish to attend board of education meetings to pass through a metal detector.

The metal detector is part of new security screening procedures the school district announced Wednesday for people who attend the board’s 7 p.m. business meeting. Bags will also be subject to search, said Sloan Roach, school district spokeswoman.

ExploreGwinnett school board meeting ends after mask protest in audience

The district encouraged people to arrive early to allow sufficient time for the security check-in.

Face masks are required in all district facilities, including the J. Alvin Wilbanks Instructional Service Center where board meetings take place. Last month’s meeting ended early after several audience members took off their masks and refused to put them back on, chanting, “Unmask our children.”

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About 100 people did the same thing in May, stalling the meeting for 40 minutes before the school board reconvened in a smaller room with a limited, masked audience to hear presentations and take votes. The National School Boards Association cited the disruption in a letter to President Joe Biden asking for a federal response to threats against school board members and employees nationwide.

People who refuse to wear masks appropriately will be asked to leave and can be removed by police or security officers, according to the school district. Those removed for disruptive behavior could face criminal charges.

“Obviously removing someone from a meeting is a last possible resort,” Roach said. “There have been an number of steps we’ve taken to avoid that, but that is outlined as a step that we could take.”

The Gwinnett school district this year has steadily increased its police presence at board meetings, as well as the number of staffers who welcome visitors and monitor the meeting room. Those entering the room are now also observed on video, according to the school district.