St. Charles District 303 School Board members continue to work on clarifying the district’s rules regarding public participation at board meetings.
School board members discussed the issue again during the School Board’s Policy Committee meeting on Monday. District 303 administration recommended using newly created language that states, “During the public comment period, community members will have up to three minutes apiece to address the board on a topic of their choosing. We ask all individuals who address the board to do so with respect and civility toward others. Insults and defamatory remarks will not be tolerated. Please note that personnel matters are sensitive and confidential. While the board cannot respond to today’s public comments during this meeting, we are committed to listening to you to help support our work for the district and on behalf of our students, families and community members.”
The administration recommended the proposed language be read prior to citizen comments at board and committee meetings. School Superintendent Paul Gordon asked board members if they were comfortable with the new language.
The current statement read prior to the public comment period says that, “The school code provides for a public comment period at each board meeting, subject to reasonable constraints. The practice of this board is to limit public comment to three minutes per speaker, to a total of 30 minutes at the beginning of the meeting. Speakers addressing the board are expected to maintain a reasonable level of civility. Also, personnel matters are sensitive and confidential. Comments regarding individuals should be respectful. Insults and defamatory remarks have no place in this setting. The board will terminate public comment if speakers cannot adhere to these guidelines.”
Board member Becky McCabe had questions about some of the language in the proposed new statement. She questioned the part about insults and defamatory remarks not being tolerated.
“I don’t know what that means,” McCabe said. “We’ve had a long discussion about what legally we can do and not do, and what does it mean it won’t be tolerated? We have to be really careful. You can’t stop people from speaking, so I just want you to think through that. I read it all the time, but in my head, it’s like, what will we do?”
In response, Gordon said the language could be changed to say, “We ask all individuals who address the board to do so with respect and civility towards others.”
“That is just the expectation,” Gordon said. “Assuming positive intent I believe sometimes is exactly a good place for us to be.”
Board member Matthew Kuschert asked if would be incumbent on whoever is charge of the meeting to cut a comment off if it is inappropriate.
“It is the chairperson’s role to be able to say, ‘Again, I want to remind the speaker that we are asking for civility toward and respect for each other,’ ‘’ Gordon said in response. “I don’t think there’s a place for us to stop them from using whatever language they are, but we can remind them of our expectations. I think that’s where legal counsel would want us to be. We’re good at reminding people.”
Board member Ed McNally agreed with other board members that speakers should have to identify themselves.
“I think that anytime somebody has an opinion, they should be identifying themselves as to who they are,” he said. “You don’t always know their name and you don’t know sometimes the genesis of their thoughts, so I do think it’s important that people identify themselves. We’ve all identified ourselves up here.”
There was also discussion about whether speakers should be required to say where they live. McNally noted that in previous discussions, the board’s attorney said speakers do not have to provide that information.
Gordon then suggested language that would state, “We would ask that you please identify yourself and identify what community you reside in.”
Board member Jillian Barker noted that in the past, speakers would read statements from other people.
“Have we asked our attorney about that?” Barker asked. “Is that OK? How does that work? it just opens up a lot of questions for me.”
Gordon said it is allowable.
“We’re going to assume that they’ve been given that authority to do that,” he said. “But yes, they do have that right to.”
Board members plan to review the proposed changes before the changes are implemented.