Newark School Board May Consider Banning Disruptive Members of The Public From Board Meetings

File Photo of the Newark Board of Education members.

NEWARK, NJ - The Newark Board of Education will consider temporarily banning disruptive members of the public from attending board meetings.

The idea and how this would be accomplished was discussed during a governance committee meeting earlier this month. It will be brought up before the full board for discussion, School Board Vice President Dawn Haynes said.

Those who are disruptive and prevent educational programs from going forward or business of the Board of Education from proceeding in an orderly fashion would receive a "ban letter," explained said Brenda Liss, the Newark school district's general counsel.  

The ban letters would be served to people whose "conduct is so egregious as to provide that for some period of time they should no longer be permitted to attend board meetings,” Liss said at the August 20 board meeting. 

Attending public meetings and speaking during the public participation session of the meeting is well within the rights of the public. The board will be reviewing the circumstances in which that boundary is blurred and participant behavior hinders meetings from proceeding, Liss said.

The board would have to show proof that there were no lesser measures they could take to address the problem. Short of violence, the board would have a heavy burden to show that banning is the only way to take order, Chen said.

“Banning them from a public meeting is pretty extreme. Obviously, there’s going to be a whole slew of arguments of whether the person they're trying to ban was really disruptive or not,” said Chen, who specializes in First Amendment law. “Going over your allotted time for speaking is probably not going to cut it.”

Wilhelmina Holder, long-time education advocate and board meeting attendee, felt appalled that the board would consider this measure.

For her, its about respect. During public participation, the tone and manner that some board members give are received as disrespectful. 

“We put our lives in this system. We feel like there should be some privilege in this,” said Holder. “We earned it.”

Before public participation, the rules for proceedings are read aloud each time and a timer for three minutes is typically visible for the speaker and audience to see. 

The challenge starts when members talk past their time and the board has to move on to let the next person speak or proceed with the board meeting.

“I was born in this community, I was raised in this community,” said Board President Josephine Garcia, noting that she is a parent and knows what it's like to be in the public's shoes.

“I try to be fair and let everyone speak,” said Garcia. “I want people to come here before us and feel free to speak their minds."

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