JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A joint meeting between the Jacksonville City Council and the Duval County School board was halted shortly after it began Friday morning when audience members began shouting at the elected officials.
About 10 people who participated in a small rally outside City Hall in support of changing the names of several public schools came into council chambers and began yelling.
When the protestors did not stop speaking after being asked, Council President Tommy Hazouri recessed the meeting and asked police to clear the audience.
Shelia Wright was among those who began shouting and chanting “change the name” after they learned public input would not be allowed at the meeting. She has no regrets about the action they took.
“You can’t tell us that the kids are our future; you can’t tell us that the kids matter when your actions show us differently,” Wright said.
It does not appear any of the protestors were arrested, just forced to leave council chambers before the meeting resumed.
“I think it’s a violation of the Sunshine Law,” Katie Chorbak said after being escorted out. “It’s pretty clear within the law that a public comment section is afforded in any city meeting.”
Dr. Diana Greene, superintendent of Duval County Public Schools, said the outburst was not unexpected.
“We’ve been dealing with the protesting for quite a while. It is just a part of this process,” Greene said. “We have to ensure that we remain calm and we have a cool head so we can ensure that the process can remain true.”
Council members said the joint meeting was not originally planned to discuss the school name changes but to get an update on the recently passed sales tax to improve school facilities.
“It’s disappointing,” Councilman Michael Boyland said after the meeting. “I hope there is an appreciation for the process the school system is putting in place to address this.”
Council President Hazori said, “Time changes everything.”
“We’re still not fighting a war,” Hazouri said. “You can be proud of your heritage, but more importantly ... we’re going to resolve this issue. That’s the issue of the day.”
Ben Frazier of the Northside Coalition told News4Jax the protesters had the meeting outburst planned, part of an escalating campaign to support changing the school names. He said that in addition to yard signs already deployed, groups will add neighborhood canvassing and direct mail and billboards to their efforts.
“The event today was not an impromptu event. It was a well-planned protest of civil disobedience spearheaded by the Northside Coalition,” Frazier said in a statement. “It’s purpose was to draw attention to the fight to change the names of public schools named to honor confederates.”