The feature story “Teaching From the Bull’s-eye” addresses how districts, schools and educators can respond when organized intimidation, troll storming and other scare tactics target their community. This accompanying toolkit covers how school communities can handle orchestrated, external disruptions at meetings.
Tactics to Avoid Disruption of Meetings
Prepare the meeting in advance.
Develop a fixed agenda and do not deviate from it. Make sure the agenda indicates specific times for public comment with prearranged time limits. Set community agreements for respectful dialogue.
Anticipate that there may be opposition immediately before or during the meeting. Try to outnumber the opposition with in-person support for individuals or the group(s) who might be targeted.
Explain the rules for public comment at the beginning of the meeting and stick to them. Use good facilitation methods that assure nobody is dominating or disrupting the meeting. Use the gavel if anyone disrupts.
Watch who comes into the room.
Designate a person other than the facilitator who is ready to quietly ask a disrupting person to leave. Provide security, especially for a controversial meeting, and ask them to handle this responsibility.
Know the rights and requirements in your state’s Open Meeting law, which governs public meetings sponsored by the school district.
All states have open meetings laws that usually require that the public be admitted, that public notice and agendas are published in advance, and that minutes or transcripts are kept. Check your state’s rules and consult with the district’s legal office.
Know that private meetings involve are less regulated.
Private meetings, including PTA or PTO meetings, are treated differently by law. An independent PTA may limit attendance to members only; a person may be asked to leave if they are unconnected with the school, or if they are wearing a T-shirt or button that intimidates others. A person may also be asked to leave if their words or actions are making others uncomfortable.