Refugee Hearing Resettlement Inconvenient for Hamilton School District
If Ravalli County commissioners were caught off guard by the huge crowd that showed up for a hearing on Syrian refugees, so was the Hamilton School District.
NBC Montana reports the hearing on a controversial commission letter opposing the resettlement of refugees in western Montana brought too many people to fit into commission chambers. In a last-minute reshuffle, the crowd was moved to Hamilton Middle School.
District Superintendent Tom Korst said, in hindsight, accepting that many people in the middle of a school day was a mistake.
On Thursday afternoon, people began arriving at the County Administration Building for the meeting. They kept coming and coming. When it was apparent that the commission meeting room could not handle the influx, the county commission board asked the Hamilton School District for permission to move the meeting to the Middle School across the street.
"We've always prided ourselves on being good community partners," said Korst. "At the time we thought we could be accommodating for the situation."
Korst said he agreed to the last-minute request thinking there would be about 200 people. But as many as 500 people showed up.
The superintendent said it required extra monitoring to keep students separated from the crowd, in what became a highly charged political hearing.
He said the kids were kept safe, and there were no incidents.
Law enforcement was also present at the hearing.
"But having a large group like that on a sensitive topic," he said, "isn't the best thing you could have in a school during school hours. We certainly recognize that now."
Korst said the schools are "politically neutral. We wouldn't want that fervor in the building," he said. "We understand there are a lot of different perspectives, and we do not want to endorse any of them singularly."
Commissioner Jeff Burrows apologized to Korst.
Burrows said the commission "reasonably expected about 100 people," and didn't think the number would grow as high as it did.
"They did want to help out," said Burrows. "By us running over at the last minute, we put them in a tough situation."
Burrows said the meeting could have been moved to the fairgrounds across town, which could have created traffic problems, or it could have been postponed.
"We want to be a good partner in town," said Korst. "But in the future the district won't agree to spur-of-the-moment meeting requests that require making instant decisions."