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MARICOPA — Parents and community members may soon be able to attend a Maricopa Unified School District board meeting again as the board prepares to reopen the meetings for an in-person audience for the first time since April.

As of Aug. 26, the community can attend a board meeting in-person while wearing a cloth face covering. Seating will be limited, and accommodations will be made for those wishing to address the board during the call to the public.

The board heard and discussed a variety of ways to reopen meetings to the public during a lengthy presentation on Gov. Doug Ducey’s executive orders, which included a stipulation that authorizes superintendents to implement regulations and protocols to aid in resuming its operations.

Superintendent Tracey Lopeman presented the idea of reopening to the board members, some of whom had previously expressed the desire to resume in-person audiences. Lopeman proposed opening to the public by their next scheduled board meeting, Aug. 26. Her team looked around the state at what other area districts were doing to find what would work for MUSD.

“Some haven’t ever met in person — some boards have only met on Zoom or Web.x or Google — and some have had open meetings the entire time with different standards, so we had some information to reflect on,” Lopeman said.

She originally proposed a 50-person cap with masks, distanced chairs and reservations made in advance. However, some other board members worried about limiting the public presence and the effect it would have on call to the public.

“We’ve been accused of hiding behind doors because we’re not opening up — we’re meeting in person and not allowing the public to come in,” said board member Patti Coutre. “Even if they don’t have anything to say at the call to the public, they want to be present and they are stakeholders in this district. I just think we need to increase the number of seats in here.”

Board member Torri Anderson also asked that the number of total people be raised, as the capacity of the room is capped at 600, and that the attendance be first-come-first-serve, as opposed to reserved in advance.

Board member Jim Jordan pointed out the limited number was due to COVID restrictions, but they agreed to walk the room and estimate how many could be seated while socially distanced.

Spotlight recognition was also brought up, and Lopeman said they will most likely move the recognitions online. “We’re looking for different ways to recognize those people.”

The board and Lopeman eventually reached an agreement that reservations were not needed, and the cap would be dependent on their ability to maintain social distancing.

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Katie Sawyer covers Maricopa and the surrounding area for PinalCentral, including city, education, business, crime and more. She can be reached at ksawyer@pinalcentral.com.