RICHLAND — The Richland School District is hiring security and making changes to public commenting after a contentious April 26 school board meeting got out of hand.
A physical altercation between a school district employee and an elderly man who frequently attends board meetings has resulted in the man being banned from the building for a year.
And the district has hired Pasco-based Moon Security to provide a security officer to attend the board meetings to ensure that peace is kept, said school officials.
Security personnel will regularly attend the meetings starting May 10.
District spokesperson Ty Beaver said Superintendent Shelley Redinger and other administrators fielded concerns from the public that they didn’t feel safe after the meeting last week.
“They do not feel safe coming to board meetings,” Beaver told the Herald. “They feel like there are people who are intimidating people who don’t agree with them, and so we want to make sure our board meetings are safe for everybody, and that’s the reason we’re moving forward with hiring security personnel.”
The cost was not immediately known, Beaver said. The district has retained the company only for regular school board meetings. It’s also unclear if security will be armed.
“The board and district leaders appreciate the passion that community members hold in ensuring that RSD schools are engaging, safe and effective places for learning for students,” read an email update following the meeting.
“They ask that everyone in the community share that passion with kindness, courtesy, and civility so all can be a model for students in their own actions.”
Last week’s regular meeting was temporarily derailed when a group of attendees became vocally irate and abrasive over the limited time allowed for in-person public comments.
After one attendee came up to the board and demanded to talk, President Jill Oldson recessed the meeting for about 5 minutes. During that recess, arguments continued.
Board member Rick Jansons was heckled by an attendee for his comments in support of serving all students, including those who identify as LGBTQ.
Jansons banged on his desk, and asked the district to “throw him out” of the meeting.
Public comments to the board were already limited to 2 minutes per person, with the board setting aside 15 minutes for those attending in-person and 15 minutes for those attending via Zoom video conferencing.
The rules were established in recent weeks in an attempt to conduct business in a timelier fashion, after board meetings were dragging on late into the night.
But after the April 26 meeting, the rules were tweaked again.
“Per board direction, district staff have developed an online sign up process for those wanting to provide public comment beginning with the May 10 regular Board meeting,” read an update from the district.
The form will be available online 24 hours in advance of future meetings that allow public comments, and will be available at the district’s website.
The school board president presides over the meetings, and the board has purview over how to conduct public commenting periods.
Previously, in-person attendees would fill out a paper sheet near the entrance of the board room in order to indicate they were interested in speaking. They are taken in order for 15 minutes.
Online attendees would indicate via message or by raising their hands electronically that they wanted to speak.
Attendees will still have 2 minutes to address the board, with time set aside for both those attending in-person and online. Additionally, the public can submit public comments by email through the district’s website.
After an incident toward the end of last week’s meeting, an elderly man, who uses a walker and often attends meetings and distributes Bibles to the board, was banned from the Teaching, Learning and Administration Center (TLAC) building, at 6972 Keene Road.
That’s where the district regularly holds its board meetings.
Lt. Duane Olsen with the West Richland Police Department said they were contacted by a district official after the meeting about the incident when the man is accused of intentionally knocking his walker into a staff member before the end of the meeting.
Beaver said the district considered this a physical assault on one of its staff members.
Police were called to the building during the meeting at 7:20 p.m., Olsen said. But officers left shortly after arriving as things had cooled off among the attendees.
Later, the district asked the police to “trespass” the man from attending meetings for a year.