"Because we've always done it that way" is never a good reason to, well, keeping doing things the same way. In that respect, it probably makes sense that Harford County Public Schools' Board of Education is taking a look at its current meeting schedule.

With an almost entirely new board seated in July and Superintendent Sean Bulson now with a full year under his belt, there is no harm in looking at potential changes to the current policy, which has the school board meeting twice a month, on the second and fourth Mondays.

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At the Board of Education's most recent meeting Sept. 23, Patrick Spicer, the school board’s attorney, presented options, noting one possibility that the board meeting only once per month, with a second meeting as necessary.

Color us skeptical on that idea. Reducing the number of meetings means two things — reducing the opportunity for civic engagement and lengthening the amount of time spent at a meeting, which in turn, can again reduce citizen participation.

The first part is obvious, if you only have one meeting per month, it makes it more difficult for members of the public to attend. And when you're talking about the school board, the constituency is largely made up of parents of students or, oftentimes, the students themselves. Many parents are already balancing work, driving or picking up students to and from extracurricular activities, and making sure there is a hot meal on the table for dinner.

Reducing meetings to once per month also means they'll inevitably be longer. While the opportunity for public comment is currently offered at the beginning of the meeting, issues that the public wants to hear about may not come up until hours into a meeting, depending on the agenda.

A review of school board meeting lengths from 2019 shows they have ranged from a 36-minute meeting in early January to a 2 hour, 49 minute meeting in mid-February. Nine of the 15 meetings were over 90 minutes; four were longer than 2 hours. On average, board members met for 101 minutes each time this year. (We would be remiss not to mention a nearly 6-hour meeting from June of 2018 that didn't end until early the next morning.)

It’s safe to assume if the school board met only once a month, those meetings would last about 3 hours or more, on average. Start earlier, and you limit the number of people who can attend. Start later, and you’re keeping parents and students up longer, on a school night no less.

Most school boards in Central Maryland counties meet twice a month, including neighboring Cecil and Baltimore counties, though a few will reduce that to once a month during summer months, not unlike Harford.

We’re encouraged that Board of Education President Jansen Robinson said he doesn’t want to “take away the opportunity for the community to have access to board members.” In fact, we like Robinson’s idea of having a second meeting dedicated to deeper discussion and dialogue and, perhaps, even taking those meetings on the road to other places of the county.

Bringing government to the people is an idea we will always get behind. Parents and students who take an active interest in the decisions made that affect public education in Harford County should let board members know they want more access, not less.

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