Gwinnett County schools to increase security at board meetings

Scores of audience members refused to wear masks or leave the Gwinnett County Board of Education meeting Thursday, May 20, 2021.
caption arrowCaption
Scores of audience members refused to wear masks or leave the Gwinnett County Board of Education meeting Thursday, May 20, 2021.

Credit: Alia Malik

Gwinnett County Public Schools is drastically increasing security at board of education meetings in response to the disruption last month when nearly 100 people packed the meeting room and refused to wear masks or leave, per policy.

The school district had eight police officers on hand for last month’s meeting. The next one is Thursday, and Sloan Roach, school district spokeswoman, said she had not been given final figures but “there will be a much larger number of school resource officers there.”

ExploreGwinnett school officials to discuss security after disorderly meeting

During the May meeting, audience members shouted down board members who asked them to wear masks, causing the board to walk out for about 10 minutes and recess the meeting soon after returning to the dais. While the board reconvened in a smaller room, members of the audience chanted and argued with each other.

Police stepped in to de-escalate two different verbal confrontations between audience members, Roach said. Participants in both altercations later asked to press charges and the complaints remain under investigation, she said.

School district police also have video of two unidentified men who were shouting and being especially disruptive, Roach said. Those men will be issued criminal trespass warnings and banned from Thursday’s meeting if they show up, she said.

Masks are now “strongly recommended” rather than required in Gwinnett school district buildings.

Ahead of this week’s meeting, the school district posted a list of rules to its website, saying only those signed up to speak may address the board and the audience cannot make comments or sounds while others are speaking. Anyone who disrupts the meeting will be warned and then removed if necessary, the district said.

“Individuals removed for disruptive behavior may face criminal charges,” the district said.

ExploreMore stories about Gwinnett County Public Schools

School resource officers removed at least one person from last month’s meeting, but “the bottom line was, there was not enough manpower in the room to remove everyone who was causing a disruption,” Roach said.

If the handful of officers had tried to kick out more people, additional safety issues could have arisen, she said.