BESE members commend decision to stop meeting due to health and safety concerns; no plans for additional special meeting

Published 6:23 am Monday, August 23, 2021

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Sandy Holloway – President (Republican – Thibodaux), Kira Orange Jones – Vice President (Democrat – New Orleans), and Ashley Ellis – Secretary (Republican – Monroe) commend the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE)’s bipartisan decision this week to prioritize the safety, health, and wellbeing of staff, interpreters, and citizens by adjourning a disrupted meeting on mask mandates in schools with an 8-2 vote. The vote was called for after groups of protesters spent hours disrupting the meeting with shouts, outbursts, and refusing to comply with the governor’s mask mandate for government buildings. The adjournment finally came after repeated requests for compliance and order and an offer of a separate room, with live streaming availability, for those requesting medical exemptions.

In response to requests from some members of the legislature for BESE to hold a special meeting to receive public comment, BESE’s Bipartisan Leadership Team offered the following statement:

“BESE Members are no strangers to meetings that last 10 or more hours on any given day, rich with opportunities for the public to voice their concerns about issues in education. We welcome and expect to hear long hours of differing opinions by impassioned citizens who want nothing but the very best for their children and the children in our state. This is why the item was added as part of the standard Board business on our August 18th meeting agenda and why the Board offered numerous opportunities for compliance with the lawful mask mandate. It is also why two adjacent rooms with social distancing and live streaming for those refusing or unable to wear masks were made available to all, and why repeatedly requests to attendees to restore order in the room were made – so that the Board could carry on with its business for the day, which included providing time on the agenda designated for their public comment and discussion about the mask mandate in public schools.

It was only after more than five requests without compliance, outbursts by the crowd from protesters arguing across the room, and “No more masks, No more masks” and “We will not comply, we will not comply” chants from the crowd, after medical experts were unable to safely testify, after numerous requests were made from officials and audience members that the Board determined adjournment was necessary to ensure the safety, health, and well being of all citizens in attendance.

As elected officials, we understand our responsibility to listen to those who elect us. We have just as great a responsibility to follow the laws of the State of Louisiana and to fulfill our duty to make decisions to protect the safety, health, and wellbeing of those who elect us as well.  When forced to make that decision last week, we were left with no choice but to prioritize the safety and health of those in the room over citizens who were refusing to follow the law, adhere to basic rules of order – all while putting the health of others at risk.  As educators and education leaders, we have to be role models for children. Just as we wouldn’t allow this behavior in schools, neither will we tolerate refusal to follow the law, intimidation, bullying tactics, and putting the health and safety of attendees at risk during our Board meetings.

Throughout this pandemic – as we have needed to make tough decisions for students and teachers – we have held tightly to our responsibility to both protect the health and wellbeing of students and teachers while also ensuring students are being educated. These same core values continue to drive every decision we are required to make during this public health emergency. We remain committed to standing with all elected leaders who are prepared to act on these same core values.

We will continue to prove through our actions that we prioritize and value health, human life, and respect for the laws that govern our state and country – just as we did with our vote to adjourn last week. We will not put the safety, health, and wellbeing of citizens at risk.

The governor’s current executive order is in effect until September 1st.  There are no plans to call a special meeting.”