The Carroll County Board of Education was set to vote on a policy change Wednesday that would limit the number of speakers allowed during citizen participation at public board meetings. However, after numerous complaints about the measure, the board neither voted on nor discussed the agenda item at length.
Board members have said the current policy allows for a circuslike atmosphere, and hoped an update would streamline the public participation process. The board also delayed a vote on the measure at its September meeting, after receiving in-person and emailed public comment on proposed changes to the policy.
Under the proposed revisions, the maximum number of speakers for each meeting would be set to 15. Members of the public would have to apply to speak on the day before the board meeting, between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m., and would be notified by noon on the day of the meeting if they were chosen to speak.
At the September board meeting, during discussion on revisions to the Citizen Participation Policy, the board asked staff to go back and edit portions of the policy again. Tweaks to the policy, uploaded to the board’s website this week, include adding a provision that speakers would be selected by staff “upon viewpoint neutral criteria with first priority being given to items on the meeting agenda.” The updated policy revisions also state that the list of people who have signed up to speak will be made public on the school system’s website.
“While I appreciate the thought of knowing who will be chosen to speak in advance, the point isn’t knowing who will speak, but kind of how they were chosen,” community member Felix Colon said at the meeting. “What criteria is being used to determine who was allowed the privilege to voice the concerns of the community and how do we know that these people actually represent the voice of the people on the issue?”
Also under the proposed revisions, language referring to speakers as “citizens” would be changed to “public” or “member of the public.” Additionally, stand-ins for a scheduled speaker would be disallowed and the board would reserve the right to correct any misinformation. Even if the number of in-person speakers was limited, the public would still be invited to comment on issues in the form of emails and letters, which Board President Kenneth Kiler said outnumber speakers 20 to 1.
“We’re here to educate students,” Kiler said as part of his board member update at the beginning of the meeting. “When I think about our public comments — which I value — very, very few of them relate to classroom education and what’s important for our students. I think all of us need to get back on focus to what we’re here for, and it’s educating students, not the other fun and games.”
While the public participation policy change was originally slated as action item 8.e, it was not discussed and no vote was held. The item was removed from the published agenda after the meeting and the file containing the proposed update has been deleted. According to Carroll County Public Schools Communications Director Carey Gaddis, the topic could return as an agenda item in the future.
“Please consider that this is a community of parents when you when you decide who gets to speak,” Margaret Barns said at the meeting, “and we have to really think long and hard about who has authority over our children.”
Carroll County Board of Education meetings are held from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on the second Wednesday of every month at 125 N. Court St. in Westminster. Public participation begins at 5 p.m. However, the next meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 9 because Tuesday is Election Day.