School board will establish ‘Free Speech’ zones for future board meeetings

Satya Chandragiri, chair of the Salem-Keizer Public School Board.

For the second consecutive month, a protest outside of the Salem-Keizer Public Schools (SKPS) district office provided notable disruption during a board meeting on Tuesday, June 15.

Sounds of air horns and banging on the windows could be heard immediately as the meeting started, making it difficult for board members to effectively communicate with one another.

The raucous crowd caused board chair Satya Chandragiri to make an agenda modification, proposing that the board consider providing a free speech zone in a location within the property and designate a no-trespassing zone — after appropriate notification to the public — to prevent disruption of meetings in the future.

Chandragiri cited the importance of the public to be able to listen to the deliberations, as well as safety concerns as the reasons for the proposal.

“Disrupting the business of the board is a violation of the public meeting law. You would do the same thing if this kind of thing happened inside the courtroom,” said SKPS attorney Paul Dakopolos. “You would be authorizing the security department to enforce a no-trespass zone so that the meeting wouldn’t be disrupted in the way it is being disrupted right now.”

Board member Kathy Goss shared her displeasure with the protestors and said she didn’t want the board to pander to the protestors.

“I guess I can’t help but feel like we are pandering to poor behavior by establishing a different spot for poor behavior out in our parking lot,” Goss said. “I would vote for it around the building, but I wouldn’t vote for replacing it with something that is going to continue to cause us problems.”

Chandragiri pushed back on Goss’s statement and talked about the importance of members of the community having the opportunity to protest — as well as the potential ramifications if the board allowed protestors to continue to disrupt meetings.

“We have to provide a free-speech zone where people can (protest). People do have a fundamental right to protest, and I am not in support of taking away that right,” Chandragiri said. “If the glass breaks and a little child or adult ends up getting seriously injured, or if the glass breaks in the passion and emotion and they come inside, then we are talking about potential legal risks and so may other risks.”

Dakopolos mentioned that the parking lot outside the building could serve as an adequate location for protestors, but SKPS chief operations officer Michael Wolfe said the district would have some work to do before deciding on a final potential location.

“We will go through a thorough risk assessment and determine the best location, so that it’s less disruptive but still honors free speech,” Wolfe said. “We will do our due-diligence and make sure we have it in an appropriate space,”

The resolution was eventually passed with a 5-2 vote, Paul Kyllo and Goss represented the dissenting votes.

In other business, the board elected Grace Caldwell to serve as the board’s new student advisor. Caldwell attends McKay High School and has spent the last year on the Salem-Keizer Student Equity/Student Advisory Committee.

This was the final meeting for current board members Goss, Kyllo, Sheronne Blasi and Jesse Lippold Peone, who will be replaced by Ashley Carson Cottingham, Karina Guzman Ortiz Osvaldo Avila and Maria Hinojos Pressey.

Additionally, the board approved the LGBTQ+ pride proclamation for the month of June and approved the district’s $1.5 billion operation budget for the 2021-22 school year — Marty Heyen and Kyllo represented the dissenting votes.

Matt Rawlings: [email protected]