Tuesday's Rochester School Board meeting was a very different affair than the raucous one held two weeks ago that featured a heckling crowd of conservative activists denouncing masks and critical race theory.

Tuesday's meeting was an opportunity for many in the public to respond to and reject the messages and angry tone expressed at the July 13 meeting. When Rochester School Board chairwoman Jean Marvin took a peek from the Edison Building before the meeting, the line of people formed outside was the biggest she had seen in decades of attending meetings.

But despite that crowd size, a more robust police presence, a ban on hand-held signs, and a measure of crowd control all contributed to a calmer, more orderly school board meeting than the one before. Anticipating a large turnout, a public schools staff member clicked through audience members to ensure the number of attendees did not exceed the fire code limits for the room.


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Still, it was standing-room-only.

But the biggest reason Tuesday's meeting was so different than the previous one was that advocates for racial justice education and public healthy safety measures, such as masking, showed up en masse. The group included religious leaders, teachers, parents and students. They packed the board room.

"The community, including faith leaders, responded to that meeting (two weeks ago) wanting to respond with a different message," said the Rev. Luke Stevens-Royer, lead pastor at First Unitarian Universalist Church in Rochester.

Stevens-Royer was one of 26 religious leaders to co-sign a public letter decrying the "fear and aggression" expressed by conservative activists at the July 13 meeting. The letter advocated an age-appropriate education that honestly examines the country's history and creates critical thinkers.

Brian Braaten, a critic of Black Lives Matter movement who attended the July 13 and Tuesday's meeting, declined to be interviewed for this story.

The demonstration at the July 13 meeting included angry denunciation of masks, disapproval of a board resolution approving language around Black Lives Matter, and a spontaneous reciting of the Lord's Prayer. The rhetoric was so disruptive and apparently angry that many who attended the public meeting were afraid for their safety, Marvin said.

The activists had also vowed to keep coming to board meetings to denounce critical race theory and Black Lives Matter. Critical race theory is not taught in Rochester's public schools, officials say.

But a backlash was building. Since the July 13 meeting, school board members had been inundated with emails from people offended by what they had seen on social media and reported from the July 13 meeting.

"I don't think the board has ever gotten as many emails as we have gotten in the last two weeks from people who are absolutely decrying the kind of behavior that they witnessed," Marvin said.

ISAIAH, a statewide coalition of faith communities advocating for racial and economic justice, played in role in coordinating the letter signed by clergy. The group also organized a late-afternoon press conference ahead of Tuesday's board meeting. It featured speakers representing various clergy, educational, community and student groups expressing support for racial justice education.

Once the press conference was over, they got in line, ensuring that their presence and numbers dominated the meeting room. It still left people from both sides standing outside.

"That was intentional to have (the press conference) right before, to gather community, but also to make sure that we could get in the room," Stevens-Royer said.

Marvin set the tone for the meeting with opening comments that emphasized the necessity for civil discourse.

"It was a totally different tone yesterday, and probably more indicative of how Rochester really is," Marvin said.

Stevens-Royer said the school district is not perfect. And there's more work to be done in the area of race and racial disparities.

"But I was heartened to see how the community showed up. I was really heartened to see students and students of color being very clear about what they expect of their education and honesty and inclusion."