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Norman city council expands masking mandate, accepts grant for police in schools

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A screenshot of the Sept. 22 Norman City Council meeting.

In the Sept. 22 Norman City Council meeting, members voted to pass an ordinance penalizing lack of masking at gatherings of 25 or more and accepted a federal grant for school resource officers, among other items.

In light of Norman Public Schools' students moving online due to spikes in COVID-19 cases and OU students returning to campus, the masking ordinance aims to curb college parties in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19. However, some Normanites and councilmembers voiced concerns about the ordinance and other agenda items. 

Representatives of Unite Norman were also at city hall to advocate against the mask ordinance, for SRO funding and to support approving Sean Boyd’s appointment to the open Ward 2 seat following the death of former councilmember David Perry. 

Ward 3 Councilmember Alison Petrone urged the council, OU and Norman Public Schools to form a “united front.” She said her ward has concerns on getting students back to school in-person, which is why she would vote to pass the ordinance. 

However, Petrone moved to amend the ordinance by removing the enforcement of masks in the party setting. Petrone addressed a loophole in the ordinance that an individual cannot wear a mask while drinking at a party and said it would be more useful to better enforce the existing party rules because partiers can easily skirt the mask requirement if they are holding a cup. The amendment failed to pass. 

Ward 4 Councilmember Lee Hall asked Norman Police Deputy Chief Officer Ricky Jackson if the ordinance would prove to be a useful tool for the police department in ensuring mask use in large social gatherings. 

Jackson said it would be useful when enforcing it in public settings outside people’s private property. However, he said police would not be going into people's homes or fenced backyards and checking for masks unless a nuisance party was reported.

“It’s not just the student house parties. It’s pool parties, it is weddings, it is churches, and you’re delusional if you don’t think that,” Mayor Breea Clark said. “I think this is a step in the right direction.”

After the final reading, the ordinance passed. 

The council also discussed whether to accept a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice and Community Oriented Policing Services to be put toward hiring four more student resource officers to elementary schools. The grant must be matched with appropriations from the Special Grant Fund balance. 

“It’s hard to accept a grant when it’s not just a grant, it’s a match grant,” Clark said. “It sounds great, like free money, but it’s not and we are in a bit of a precarious situation right now.”

Steve Ellis of Ward 4, a philosophy professor at OU, advocated to reject the grant on the basis that the SRO program is detrimental to Black and Indigenous students in Norman Public Schools. Based on data given by the NPD, Ellis said of the encounters that students of color have with an SROs, the majority are negative, involving either their arrest or voluntary detainment. 

“That happens at three times the rate for Black students in Norman than for white students,” Ellis said. “That’s a reason why we need to really forgo the SRO problem, but at least not add more.” 

Several of the Norman resident public comments advocated for the SRO grant with the rationale that they want their children to be safe in schools, and they felt SROs can ensure that. 

Ward 7 resident Denise Sober said the issue of accepting the grant is mainly a budget decision, and that the city has spent money on other areas she felt weren’t as necessary, such as buses and art installations. She also said as a Norman teacher, she’s seen teachers injured by students, and they often end up calling the police department anyway in schools where there aren’t SROs.

“Why don’t we put a cop in these schools to build these relationships so that maybe we don’t escalate to that point?” Sober asked the council. “If we want the world to change and we want to come back to unity, where we’re not all against each other, we’ve got to build relationships now, and that can start in our elementary schools.”

The council moved to pass the grant on the condition that it was to be voted on by Norman residents. The vote passed 7-1 against Hall. 

The city council also voted not to approve Sean Boyd’s appointment for Ward 2 Councilmember. Boyd, the executive director of marketing and business development for the Chickasaw Nation, was selected following the death of councilmember David Perry. 

According to Hall, there were many Ward 2 residents that notified her of their lack of support for Boyd. Two members of the Ward 2 selection committee withdrew their support for Boyd, as well. 

According to Ward 6 Councilmember Elizabeth Foreman, Boyd’s lack of civic engagement was reflected by his lack of voting history. 

“If he is a good guy and I’m wrong, well then his feelings get hurt a little bit and I feel bad,” Ward 5 Councilmember Michael Nash said. “If he’s a bad guy and I vote for him, Ward 2 has to suffer.” 

Boyd said his history on social media of sharing opinions like masking “(takes) away our freedoms” — a position he later reversed as the science became “clear” — had “caught up” to him.

Councilmembers expressed concern that the more “progressive” policy ideals of Perry wouldn’t be reflected in Boyd’s tenure as councilmember, and that Ward 2 voters should be able to have a representative that more closely aligns with the values they voted for.

Several other council members brought up concerns regarding the process in which Boyd was appointed after Perry’s death. When Boyd was explaining that this is the process that is in place to handle this kind of situation, Unite Norman supporters interrupted the livestream from city hall, chanting “respect the process.”

Clark and Ward 8 Councilmember Matthew Peacock were the only members who voted for Boyd’s appointment.

“As I walk away, likely in defeat, I will smile the whole way,” Boyd said. “I stand by who I am.”

Concerns were also raised regarding section 17 of the consent docket. Section 17 would accept a Homeland Security grant of $43,691.52 toward a portable x-ray machine for the police department. Council members raised questions of what the x-ray would be used for and if there were any cheaper alternatives. 

The consent docket passed unanimously. 

The council also accepted proclamations to recognize October as Breast Cancer Awareness Month, LGBTQ+ History Month and Bullying Prevention Month in Norman.

Beth Wallis is a senior journalism major and political science minor, and news editor for The Daily. Previously, she worked as a junior news reporter covering university research and news managing editor.

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