Schools discuss amending bylaws

The Board of Education discussed amending its bylaws on what is allowed during the public comment period of board meetings on Monday, April 23.

The amended language removes restrictions on members of the public making “boisterous comments” or “charges or complaints against any employee of the board,” including whether the “employee is identified in the presentation by name.”

The new language says the board chair “may direct members of the public to the appropriate means to address concerns brought before the board; however, the board will not respond with comments or actions but will take comments under consideration and may direct the superintendent to address outside of the board meeting.”

The board will vote on the new language at its next meeting, Monday, May 14.  

The changes come several months after Ridgefield High School student Paul Kim was deemed out of order for making a “personal attack” on then superintendent Karen Baldwin, as chairwoman Fran Walton ruled at the time. Kim accused Baldwin of copying several paragraphs in a letter sent home in the wake of the Parkland, Fla., shooting.

“It has come to our attention our meeting conduct policy may have had some infringement on an individual’s rights for speaking,” said board member Sharon D’Orso, who sits on the board’s policy committee.

She said the new language had been reviewed by attorney Rebecca Santiago, who told the board it is not required to allow people to make public comments.

Once the board does, however, the comment period becomes a “designated forum.”

“It cannot have restrictions on viewpoints, it cannot be discriminatory — it has to be neutral, but we can place some restrictions on time, place and manner,” D’Orso said.

Vice Chairman Doug Silver said eliminating the restriction on “charges or complaints” against individuals could open the board up to liability if someone was slandered.

D’Orso said that according to Santiago, there will be no legal ramifications to the board for allowing an individual to speak freely, as long as the board does not appear to agree with the accusations.

The amended bylaws keep a three-minute time limit on comments, and can also limit the purpose of speaking. “So, if we’re having a budget meeting, we can limit it to budgetary comments,” D’Orso said.

She said the wording on “boisterous” comments was removed out of concern that it limited how people could express themselves — including singing.

“We’ve had people come and sing to us,” D’Orso said.