Come back to postbulletin.com for live coverage of Tuesday's school board meeting starting at 4:00.
Following a contentious school board meeting earlier this month, Rochester Public Schools and other entities are gearing up with safety precautions ahead of Tuesday's meeting.
Heather Nessler, executive director of communications, issued a statement explaining that the district will provide more control over the situation. Part of that pertains to safety concerns, but it also pertains to other requirements during the district's public meetings, such as the use of signs.
"The district is working with local law enforcement regarding the security and safety concerns raised," she said. "We did see signs in the board room last week. However, signs, banners and posters are not permitted in the board room, and we will be enforcing this."
Amanda Grayson, crime prevention and communications coordinator for the Rochester Police Department, confirmed there will be a presence of law enforcement at the meeting.
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The previous meeting, which took place July 13, included a number of public comments, expressing concern and criticism about the district's implementation of "government speech," its mask policy, and critical race theory.
After the meeting, interim Superintendent Kent Pekel clarified that the district doesn't teach critical race theory, and that some of the comments made were based on misinformation.
Nonetheless, emotions ran high during the meeting, with members of the audience at times openly defying Board Chairwoman Jean Marvin's directions and time limits.
For this week's meeting, Nessler said the district will enforce the board room's fire code limitations on the number of people in attendance.
The concern for safety during public meetings is based on more than just a passionate audience.
Scott Sherden, operations director for the district, confirmed that someone brought a handgun to the last meeting. A school resource officer asked them to leave, and they complied. In her statement, Nessler reiterated that firearms are not allowed on the school district's premises, including the parking lot.
Mary Gorfine, program coordinator for the Rochester-Olmsted Youth Commission, sent an email Monday to media, elected officials, and students, saying she is "not officially encouraging students to attend the meeting," because of the potentially dangerous environment.
Several organizations are planning a joint press conference before Tuesday's meeting "in support of civil public discourse and honest education in Rochester Public Schools," according to a press release. The groups are ISAIAH, the Rochester Community Initiative, the Rochester Education Association and Unidos MN.