Security was tight at Tuesday night's Garland school board work session, including the presence of more police officers than normal, a surveillance tower and a bomb-sniffing dog.
It’s the first time the board’s met since a shooting outside the district-owned Curtis Culwell Center, where a Muhammad art exhibit and contest was being held.
Superintendent Bob Morrison and Board President Rick Lambert read statements, praising the Garland Police Department's quick response that left two gunmen dead. Morrison explained Garland ISD is bound by the law to allow various groups to use the district's facility.
"Once a forum is established, federal law does not allow school districts to discriminate based on the viewpoint of the group renting the facility even if we disagree with the core message," Morrison said, adding that last week's attack was the first such incident at the facility since it opened in 2005.
Garland resident Mary Ehlenfeldt said she supports the board and reminded everyone of the 2001 bond package, which included the event center.
“My message really to them tonight is that when that bond package was passed, the citizens of Garland told them: Rent it out,” Ehlenfeldt said. “The citizens of Garland made that choice. This was not the choice on them.”
Ehlenfeldt raised four kids in the district and has two children enrolled there now. She said the district could use some discretion under the law.
However, Lambert, the board president, said the district's not only responsible for teaching the First Amendment, but also protecting it.
"Despite the fact that the Muhammad Art Contest was offensive, the viewpoint expressed by those at the event was protected speech," Lambert said. "Gov. Abbott called Sunday's shooting at the Culwell Center a 'heinous crime' that struck at the heart of the First Amendment."
Michel Cosentino, general manager of the Hyatt Place, which is next door to the event center, had a suggestion for the board.
“We, too, have groups that come to our hotel or wish to come to our hotel and we go through a qualifying process,” Cosentino said. "We have kind of a pre-set guideline and we try to decide, first of all, if our venue is right for their needs, but second of all, if their group is right for our hotel and our business needs."
The Hyatt Place is next door to the Culwell Center and was on lockdown after the shooting. Cosentino said he applauds how the district and police department handled the shooting. But he thinks the board should consider adopting new rental guidelines for the facility.
“Cleary we don’t discriminate because of race, religion or anything like that, but we do draw the line when it does come to potential safety concerns for our guests, our employees and even the community around the neighborhood,” Cosentino said.
Board members discussed the district’s security measures during a closed session, but didn’t take any action during the public portion of the meeting.