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School board meeting turns contentious over COVID-19 policies

Updated August 12, 2021 - 9:41 pm

A Clark County School Board meeting turned contentious Thursday night, with audience members yelling and a handful being escorted out by police.

More than 100 people were in the audience for the meeting at the Clark County Government Center, a different and larger venue than normal.

The majority of the time was spent on public comment, and many attendees spoke in opposition to COVID-19 mask requirements and vaccinations.

The School Board left the room three times within the first two hours of the meeting — evacuating once for about 10 minutes as shouting from the audience intensified and twice for five-minute recesses.More than 10 people who disrupted the meeting were told to leave and did, or were escorted out of the room by police, including one attendee who was handcuffed. Among them was a group of about six people wearing yellow hazmat suits.

As teacher Sarah Comroe ended her public comment about how the district should use federal coronavirus relief money, she told the audience that anyone who comments on communism during the public comment period clearly didn’t pay attention during their high school social studies class.

The comment was met with booing and shouting from some members of the audience. Some yelled, “Marxist.”

“We will not have comments from the audience,” board President Linda Cavazos said, telling police officers to remove anyone being disruptive and shouting out comments.

She told the audience it’s a business meeting being held in a public venue. Cavazos also said multiple times during the meeting that face masks are required at the meeting.

About 20 minutes into the meeting, the board evacuated the room as the audience’s yelling intensified. One woman shouted: “They walked out. They lost our vote.”

Another attendee stood up and addressed the crowd, saying everyone drove out to the meeting and asked if there was any way people could be civil so the meeting could proceed.

A police officer announced to the audience that some were violating public meeting law and that if they continued to yell, the board wouldn’t come back out and would adjourn the meeting.

After about 10 minutes, Cavazos and Superintendent Jesus Jara came back into the room.

“We are not going to have these disruptions,” Cavazos said, adding those in the audience have had enough time to do their jeering and yelling.

There was business to conduct and other people have signed up to speak, she said.

“I would like to hear those voices tonight,” Cavazos said.

Public comments

On Wednesday night, several hundred parents and some school district employees protested the district’s mask policy outside the district headquarters.

During public comment at the beginning of Thursday’s meeting, attendee Bonnie Taylor told the board: “Tonight, you’re being officially served,” and referred to an affidavit, holding up a piece of paper.

She said it’s time to bring to the board members’ attention their oath of office. She told the board to cease and desist all unconstitutional policies and behaviors.

“You work for us,” Taylor said. “We’re not going to back down.”

Some commenters said the district has no right to promote “propaganda” about getting vaccinated. Some parents said they feel their parental rights are being stripped away.

Melody Hendry, the mother of three children and a registered nurse, said masks aren’t meant to be worn for an extended period of time and “the majority of us” feel this is abuse to require them for children.

Cavazos said those who weren’t heard during the first public comment period were welcome to stay until the end of the meeting to comment. Some in the audience began yelling.

One woman, who spoke in favor of putting an anti-racism policy on an agenda, said she was clearly outnumbered in the audience as a Black woman.

People yelled comments at her, including “you’re the racist.”

Cavazos, who told the commenter she was speaking during the wrong public comment period, told the audience to refrain from yelling.

“We will clear the room and all that will available will be the streaming,” she said. “The audience will be cleared.”

COVID-19 update

During a COVID-19 update presentation, Jara said he’s proud of the work the district has done throughout the pandemic.

He said it was a great opening of the school year this week, but there were hiccups as normal with a school opening.

COVID-19 and the delta variant “has added extra stress to our system,” Jara said.

He said the district is focused on making the best decisions for students and employees, following the guidance of medical experts.

More than 300,000 students returned to campuses Monday for full-time in-person classes. There also distance learning options at 12 schools and via the district’s online Nevada Learning Academy at CCSD.

Once a video began playing on the topic of “reimagining our schools” — which included statistics about the district’s pandemic response — a couple people shouted out, “reimagine the school board.”

Some in the audience were laughing. Some continued making comments during Deputy Superintendent Brenda Larsen-Mitchell’s presentation about topics such as student social-emotional health and principal mentorship.

Trustee Evelyn Garcia Morales stopped the presentation to say it’s not comedy hour and if the public is not able to control its commentary, the district needs to move forward with having the public leave the room.

Cavazos asked police officers to station themselves in different sections of the auditorium and to remove anyone who was disruptive.

Chief of Facilities Jeff Wagner said an R-Zero hospital-grade UV disinfection tower will be deployed at every campus and that training will happen by Aug. 27. The system allows for disinfecting up to 1,000 square feet of space in seven minutes, he said.

Monica Cortez, an assistant superintendent, said operating with in-person classes safely requires the accumulation of multiple COVID-19 mitigation strategies.

She said the district is promoting vaccinations for students and their families, consistent and correct mask use and physical distancing.

Some audience members began yelling when Cortez talked about mandatory COVID-19 testing for unvaccinated students and staff participating in athletics.

As of Thursday, nearly 70,000 COVID-19 cases and more than 6,100 deaths have been reported in Nevada.

Trustee Danielle Ford said the audience commentary was making it hard for her to listen to the presentation and suggested that the next time staff was interrupted, the board should take a recess to discuss what to do.

About three hours into the meeting, about half of the meeting attendees had left.

Cavazos told the audience it’s a business meeting and for those bent on their own agendas, “you’re not helping yourselves at all” or their neighbors or children.

A few trustees said their goal is to keep schools open for in-person learning and they’ll do what they can to make that happen.

Cavazos said what she saw at the meeting Thursday was very emotional, but people need to respect one another and maybe look for a commonality.

She said the biggest commonality she saw was that people don’t want to see children sitting in front of a computer at home.

Cavazos also addressed issues this week with long lines at mandatory COVID-19 testing sites for unvaccinated employees.

“It did not work out because of the vendor that we had hired,” Cavazos said. “We have to fix that. We are responsible for that.”

Contact Julie Wootton-Greener at jgreener@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2921. Follow @julieswootton on Twitter.

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