This school district says up to 300 people can attend a board meeting

Michigan school boards plan to resume in-person meetings this month under new rules issued by the state on indoor gatherings.

The new order, issued by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration last week, raised the limit on indoor nonresidential gatherings where people interact between households to 25 people.

During the pandemic, school boards met online and broadcast meetings live in the community.

Several districts this week announced plans to start meeting in person again, including a district in Metro Detroit that says it is interpreting the new order to allow up to 300 people at its Monday night school board meeting.

The Grosse Pointe public school system held its first in-person board meeting Monday night at Brownell Middle School’s auditorium, which seats 837 people. The district reported that in addition to council members, there were four school board agenda item presenters and 15 other members of the public.

Superintendent Gary Niehaus said Clark Hill district attorneys use language in the order that says, in an auditorium, the district can have 50% capacity or up to 300 attendees. Niehaus said the meetings will still be livestreamed.

The district said in an emailed statement that all attendees must “wear face masks” and maintain a social distance of at least six feet.

Niehaus said he spoke Monday with Stephanie Barna, environmental compliance oversight officer for the Wayne County Health Department, who told the district in an email, “as this meeting stands in an auditorium, it falls under the restrictions set out for entertainment facilities.”

“His response allows the Board of Education meeting to take place in an auditorium,” Niehaus said.

School boards are allowed to meet in person under the new order, but the limit is 25 people for indoor non-residential gatherings — not 300, said Jennifer Smith, director of government relations for the Michigan Association of School Board.

“They can meet in person and follow capacity rules, social distancing and mask-wearing,” Smith said.

The 25-person indoor limit is a good starting point, as seven-member school boards could not meet in person before when the law limited indoor gatherings to 10 people, she said. declared.

Starting April 1, school board members can only attend the school board meeting remotely if they have a medical condition, are deployed, or live in an area under a state of emergency, Smith said.

“The virtual option has made a difference. We’ve seen a lot more attendance when the public can attend virtually,” said.

GPPSS parent Jen Evans said it was irresponsible to encourage the school community to come together as a large group when more than 100 students are quarantined at one of its high schools.

“This board has been unresponsive to parents’ concerns and seems determined to pursue its own agenda rather than what is truly best for students,” Evans said.

Other school boards, including the Farmington Public Schools Board, which is scheduled to meet in person Tuesday for the first time in months, are adhering to the non-residential indoor gathering limit of 25 people in all households.

District spokeswoman Diane Bauman said in an email that the new order means school boards can now hold “hybrid meetings” where some or all school board members meet in person, but the meeting is also taking place virtually under the requirements of the Open Meetings Act to allow members of the public to observe and participate.

“Due to the small number of people allowed to gather, these in-person meetings will be limited to school board members and staff necessary to conduct board business,” Bauman said. “Members of the public will be able to attend virtually via Webex. Once capacity limits are increased or lifted, we will be able to return to full in-person meetings.”

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Helen D. Jessen