New public comment rules receive school board approval

Freedom of speech lives.

The school board voted Monday, May 14, to unanimously accept new rules governing public comment during its meetings.

The approved rules remove a provision that prevented members of the public from making charges or complaints against “any employee of the board,” whether or not the person is named in the complaint.

In February, high school senior Paul Kim was ruled out of order by board Chairwoman Fran Walton after he attempted to accuse then Superintendent Karen Baldwin of plagiarizing a letter sent home to parents and staff. The move drew an uproar from residents online, who said the ruling violated Kim’s First Amendment rights.

Under the new rules, the board chair may now “direct” commentators “to the appropriate means to address concerns brought before the board.” The rule change also prevents board members from responding to comments or actions.

A previous rule banning “boisterous conduct” was also replaced out of concern that it could prevent people from commenting in creative ways — such as singing. Under the new guidelines, commentators are instead “asked to express themselves in a civil manner.”

The board also added two provisions that mark when public comments may be given (during regularly scheduled board meetings and public hearings) and clarify that comments made are not formal complaints.

“This is nice and clear, we now comply with changes — because of recent court cases — this is best practice, we’ve gone through the lawyers, I’m very happy with it,” said Chairwoman Fran Walton.