June 23, 2022 - 9:00 pm
The people making the most effective case that the Clark County School District is too big sit on the Board of Trustees.
The School Board is currently considering substantial changes to its public comments policy. Those include reducing speaking time from three minutes to two minutes. The new rules would eliminate the ability of a board member to request extra time for a speaker. Would-be speakers would have to sign up sooner. Currently, they can sign up at least three hours before a meeting. The new rules would require them to call by 8 p.m. the evening before or sign up in person before a meeting starts.
Tellingly, the board seeks to eliminate a line stating that it “recognizes that its deliberative process benefits greatly from public input and perspective.” It would be replaced with the boilerplate statement that the board “encourages and values public input.” This verbiage would also be added: “Willfully disturbing a public meeting or interfering with the conduct of official business in a public building are unlawful and may subject the violator to citation or arrest.”
“Speak your mind at the board meeting and you might be arrested” isn’t exactly laying out the welcome mat.
It’s possible to make the case that an individual change or two has merit. Public meetings require decorum. It’s not the right forum for debates between audience members. In rare circumstances, school police may be required to keep the peace and protect board members’ safety.
But the tenor of these changes is unmistakable. The board, either in part or in whole, thinks hearing from the public is mostly a waste of time and wants to cut back.
This proposal comes after the School Board covered a number of “very divisive topics,” as board President Irene Cepeda put it, over the past couple of years. That included issues related to the coronavirus pandemic. A September 2021 meeting had more than five hours of public comments.
It may not be pleasant, but hearing from parents and other members of the public is part of the job. When a district has around 300,000 students, Trustees should expect passionate disagreement on contentious issues. If they want to cut down on the controversy, board members should give families a voucher or education savings account to leave the district when they don’t like district policy. Alternatively, the district could divide itself into smaller districts. That’s unlikely to happen.
With great power comes great responsibility and responsibilities that can be unpleasant at times. When crafting a public comment policy, trustees must remember they work for the public.