BOE meeting proceeds after delay over masks

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At the Monday, Sept. 20, meeting of the Rome City School District’s Board of the Education, which took place on Thursday — but not without delay.

Several members of the public sought to attend the meeting without wearing a face mask, which the district said is required as a COVID-19 restriction as ordered by the state since the resurgence of the virus’s Delta variant.

Current New York State guidance, as of Sept. 2, mandates the wearing of masks, despite vaccination status, when inside district school buildings or property where the disposition of official school business is taking place, district officials said, adding that the requirement — as will all state mandates in regards to the restrictions will be enforced — or individuals will be asked to leave the meeting — and the building.

Anyone attending the special meeting on Sept. 20 saw two Rome Police Department vehicles parked in the parking lot as they pulled in, and two Rome Police Department officers in the lobby of the Rome Central School District offices as they walked in. Anyone not wearing a mask was asked to put one on, or to please leave. There was no incident around refusal to wear a mask at Monday evening’s meeting other than one speaker who refused to comply was not allowed to speak.

Citizens did cross the threshold of the district office conference room where the Board of Education convened for their regular meeting on Thursday, Sept. 23, and they were maskless. But, this time, they were not allowed to stay.

On Thursday, Sept. 23, no proactive police presence was seen as community members might pull into the parking lot or walk into the building of district offices, as the uneventful special meeting created a false sense of comfort that such conflict was not to be expected.

Said Board President, John Nash, “The Board felt that, after this past Monday’s meeting, the public understood the mandate we are operating under and would comply.” 

Protester charged

But, on Thursday, Joshua Garland, who challenged the district’s intrepretation of the state’s mask mandate, returned to the conference room where the Board of Education convenes for its meetings. He returned with a companion who, with him, walked right through the lobby of the district office wing unmasked — as there were no officers present preventing them from doing so — and into the conference room where the Rome Board of Education meets, unmasked. After efforts to negotiate with the two unmasked men — one of whom is identified as Joshua A. Garland — proved futile, at 7:37 p.m., almost 40 minutes past the scheduled time at which the Rome Board of Education meeting should have been called to order, a call was placed from the district office address on Bell Road, to report trespassing violations.

When Rome Police Department officers responded to the call, though not at first, but when it became clear arrest was imminent otherwise, Garland’s fellow protestor agreed to leave the building willingly. Police said Garland was asked to leave if he would not wear a mask, and he refused to leave. Police said Garland was warned that he would be charged if he refused to leave.

Garland is charged with one count of trespass, police said. He was also issued a bar letter for all school properties. Garland is scheduled to appear in City Court. The second protestor remains unidentified, as he was not charged.

While it was called to order about an hour late, Thursday evening was called to order and and all scheduled business resolved with no further incident.

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