UPDATE (5/13/21): After objections by four Board of Education members (Dr. Kara Dyckman, Greg Davis, Kirrena Gallagher and Dr. Mumbi Anderson), the board delayed their vote on this topic until they could hold a more thorough discussion.
The ACC Board of Education is considering new limitations on public comment at their meetings, including capping the comment period to a total of 45 minutes for each meeting, requiring speakers sign up 24 hours ahead of time and asking groups to designate a single speaker to represent their views.
These potential policy changes come as the Clarke County school district remains under review by accreditation agency Cognia. ACC Board of Education member Greg Davis told APN that the Board of Education’s policy committee is reviewing nearly every policy they have as the district seeks to regain full accreditation status.
“We’ve been going through so many [policies] very rapidly, because that’s one thing Cognia was tearing us down for, that we had policies that were very old and not being revamped,” Davis said. “We go through 20 or 25 policies pretty much every month.”
Another reason the board is considering limiting public comment also has to do with accreditation. During the tenure of former Superintendent Demond Means, the Board of Education regularly had long and contentious meetings, occasionally even with crosstalk between the board and members of the public, which is against district policy. Cognia found these meetings to be “chaotic” and “inefficient,” which is a mark against the school district as it seeks re-accreditation.
“We’re trying to find ways to make sure our meetings are as efficient as possible,” said Board of Education member Dr. Tawana Mattox in a comment to APN. “We need to keep our focus on student achievement.”
Soon after Means’ departure as acting superintendent, the school system began to face a new set of challenges with the emergence of COVID-19. This meant another deluge of public comment and an extended period of very long meetings, which has continued to this day.
“Our board meetings last until eleven o’clock. We’re getting more and more comments in and we need to try to find a way to balance that. Sometimes we have ten comments saying the same exact thing and that might take thirty minutes. It’s really challenging. It’s not that we’re trying to shut down the community,” Mattox said.
The public is not currently allowed to attend Board of Education meetings due to the need for social distancing imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Comments are accepted via email or Zoom, but potential speakers must call and request a spot before 4 pm on the day of the meeting in order to speak, although this may soon change to 24 hours in advance if this proposal passes.
All public comments received by email before the deadline will be read into the public record by a board member, according to the school district’s website.
This policy was discussed by the Board of Education last month and has been open for public comment since then, but Davis says they haven’t received any comments about it yet. If you’d like to make a comment, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org. The deadline for public comment is 4 pm Thursday, May 13.