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The Highland school board needs to take another look at its revised policy for public participation during school board meetings.
The new policy is clearly not working.
A $150,000 settlement the district paid to settle a First Amendment lawsuit precipitated the new policy.
Two times in a 30-day period board President Nate Robinson read an apology for the board’s actions regarding public participation during board meetings.
The first apology was required as part of the lawsuit settlement.
On Dec. 10, Robinson again read an apology, this time for allowing a Hills Bank representative to present a check to the district during time set aside for board member comments.
Usually check presentations are done during a segment of the board agenda called “receive visitors.”
The problem occurred when the Hills Bank representative showed up at the Nov. 12 meeting but had not notified the superintendent by noon on the day of the meeting to speak at the meeting.
The notification is required under the board policy revised in the wake of the lawsuit settlement.
Board member Cindy Michel yielded her time during board member comments at the Nov. 12 meeting for the check presentation. This drew protests from Riverside City Councilman Bob Schneider who was denied an opportunity to speak because he had not notified the superintendent ahead of time.
The noon notification is an unnecessary requirement. It also is unnecessary to read the long legal disclaimer that the Highland board president now reads prior to the start of public comments.
The notification is an attempt to bring order to public participation in meetings. With that order, the board is isolating itself from the public.
The News covers many meetings in communities across north Washington County and Lone Tree. Overall public participation in these meetings is allowed throughout the meetings. People in the audience will often comment on a topic that affects them.
City council and school board members sometimes will ask someone in the audience their thoughts on an issue.
This give and take between residents and their representatives is healthy. It is one of the hallmarks of small-town government. Public participation often makes for better decision-making. No doubt it makes residents feel like they are contributing to the process.
The default for councils and school boards should be allowing people to speak as long as that participation is orderly and civil.
The Highland school board got a clear signal that their policy is too restrictive when someone is denied an opportunity to present a check to the school.
The Highland board should take another look at its policy. It would be best if the policy is drafted by board members. The current policy seems to have been written by an attorney and does not reflect the realities of board meetings.
Riverside City Councilman Bob Schneider expressed this sentiment nicely at a recent school board meeting.
“The board has presented to the public an image of not wanting participation from the audience,” he said. “Let’s get away from letting the lawyers run our schools and get back to boards that know what is right.”