Disruption of Eugene school board meeting over gun policy prompts new safety rules
Last week, the Eugene 4j School Board was scheduled to vote on a few policies, including one to expand the district’s gun ban to include concealed weapons. The meeting preceded the Horrific school shooting in Uvalde, Texas of 19 children and two adults who has captured national attention since performing on Tuesday.
The gun policy discussion in Eugene was tied to an Oregon law passed last year allowing schools to ban concealed weapons on school campuses.
After the public comment period came and went to last week’s meeting on May 18, a group of parents complained to council members that they weren’t allowed to weigh in.
“Can we hear from any of the 20 conservative members of our community who are seated in the audience tonight?” asked one person in the audience.
“We need to take a break,” council chair Judy Newman said. The video fades to black while the audio continues. Community members who oppose the new policy continue to speak out, with council members out of the room.
A member of the remaining group grabbed a microphone and called out the only black council member, Laural O’Rourke, by name. The relative, who ran against O’Rourke in 2021 and lost, said he was upset by the term “white supremacist” “jostling” by the board, and specifically O’ Rourke.
Another person asked the audience how many had concealed handgun licenses and talked about preventing school shootings.
The council postponed voting on the policy until its June 22 meeting and said people will then be able to comment on the policy. Newman said community members should register to attend the meeting and sign up for public comment. They can only have registered to attend the meeting.
“People definitely have the opportunity to voice their opinions and make their case,” Newman said.
Following last week’s disruptions, the Eugene Board of Directors approved several security measures for its meetings and members. These include moving public meetings online until the board can get security at meetings, especially “contentious” meetings, Newman said. The board also agreed to security assessments at O’Rourke’s home and district meeting space, and to compensate O’Rourke for home security monitoring.
Newman said the Oregon School Boards Association and the Oregon Coalition of School Administrators publish a school safety toolkit, and she was able to view a draft and use a statement of it to read. before public comment to prevent members of the public from single district staff. Newman said the council is also planning security training for members and, in the long term, a disruption policy.
But before these measures are taken at a Monday meeting, O’Rourke said she spent time looking for a hotel for her and her family’s safety, but was unable to find a room due to an athletic competition. She said the district should have helped.
“It should have been we just provided something for my safety,” O’Rourke said during Monday’s meeting. She said she wanted a system in place for future board members.
Board members came out in favor of O’Rourke.
“That’s the level of seriousness of home protection that I think we need to provide Laural O’Rourke at this stage, and I think we need to do that right away… that’s what we owe it to all of us who find ourselves in this situation,” said board member Gordon Lafer.
O’Rourke is approaching the first year of his tenure on the school board. She said it has been a difficult year, with tensions from the district, staff and sometimes other board members as O’Rourke focused on improving the school system for marginalized students and staff.
“It’s about generational poverty, it’s about our indigenous population, the list keeps growing the longer I’ve been here of people who feel completely left out of the system,” O’ said. Rourke.
In the wake of targeted violence against black Americans in Buffalo, last week’s meeting felt different.
“My thought many times was, ‘The only difference something awful didn’t happen is that somebody didn’t decide to make it happen,'” O’Rourke said.
O’Rourke said last week’s disruption could have been avoided if the public had had the chance to speak to the council.
O’Rourke said she wanted to be able to do the job she was elected to do, without focusing on her race.
“It’s exhausting, and it’s dumb and exhausting,” O’Rourke said. “…The job I want to do is to ensure that our children graduate with the means to support themselves.”