As dozens of people stood in a hall outside the meeting room during the Douglas County Board of Education's Feb. 18 meeting, several county residents decried the board's new meeting attendance cap.
A district spokeswoman said earlier this month the meeting set-up allowed for a maximum of 87 seats. Of those, about 60 chairs were available for audience members. The remaining seats were reserved for media, board members and high-level administrators.
The meeting room has a posted capacity of 145.
The attendance cap is part of a recent policy change that also prohibits standing or sitting on the floor during the meetings. The never-publicly-discussed change came on the heels of a standing-room-only turnout in late January.
A similarly large crowd tried to attend the Feb. 18 meeting, with those who could not find seats standing in a hallway just outside the board room. When seated audience members left the board room, security guards escorted people from the hallway one-by-one to fill the vacant chairs.
District officials also escorted students, parents and teachers in and out of the room during the student and staff recognition portion of the meeting, allowing those attendants to temporarily stand during the short session.
“This is unacceptable,” said Cristin Patterson, among the parents who stood outside the door waiting to speak during the public comment portion of the meeting. “You won't agree to set up a computer in the hall with your innovative 21-century LiveStream that is not compatible on mobile devices, yet you have a link to stream the Olympics on the district homepage? You allow way more than fire code into this room for student/staff recognition but will no longer accommodate the public you are charged to serve?”
In an email written after the meeting, DCSD spokeswoman Paula Hans said a monitor is “not available outside the board room, so those interested in watching the board meeting may do so via the live stream from the comfort of their own home or other location.”
Cindy Barnard, president of Taxpayers for Public Education, noted that chairs had been removed from the room, and said the district is, “spending tax dollars to hire more security guards to god forbid keep somebody outside in the hallway so they can't have access to their public meeting.”
“The fire code is (for) 145 people and you're not allowing 145 people in this room,” she said. “You have made a policy decision at some time behind a closed door to limit public access to our public meeting.”
Barnard suggested the district choose a larger site from among its many schools in which to host future board meetings.
District leaders cite the fire code as justification for the change, but fire officials said they do not make such determinations.
“Standing and sitting in the aisles compromises safety/fire code and will no longer be allowed,” spokeswoman Paula Hans wrote in an email. “Our BOE room setup will only allow for 87 seats mainly due to the media area and unobstructed egress requirements. Fire code is 145 people, including BOE members and staff.”
Castle Rock Fire Division Chief Rick Auston said county building officials set occupancy limits, not fire service employees.
“If they have less than 145, they can arrange it however they want as long as they don't block any exits,” Auston said. “If they have less than 145 and maintain access and corridors in accordance with what the building is designed for, that's not an issue for me.”
Hans said DCSD is reviewing its set-up with Castle Rock Fire.
“We must not exceed the appropriate number of occupants, should an emergency arise that leads to an evacuation,” she wrote in an email.
DCSD encourages attendance at its new “Board Unplugged” meetings planned in schools throughout the county instead of the board room. These less formal events can accommodate larger crowds than the board room.
They are set for March, April and May and substitute for the first of two regularly scheduled monthly board meetings.
The first is at 6 p.m. March 3 at Cimarron Middle School, 12130 Canterberry Parkway, Parker.
Regular meetings also are broadcast live at www.livestream.com/dcsdk12