Credit to school board members Tuyet Dorau and Jeff McGinness for opposing the proposal to regulate how members of the public can express themselves during the public comment sessions at board meetings. Dorau argued that the proposal was unnecessary and questioned whether it could be applied in a viewpoint-neutral way. McGinness, the only lawyer on the board, said that he is now convinced that the proposal is unconstitutional.
Four other board members were unwilling to give up on the policy, but agreed to send it back to committee for review. It appears that the board will ask its lawyer, for the first time (!), to review the legality of the proposal.
Maybe this episode is working its way toward a happy ending, though an awful lot of time and energy will have been spent on it. Although it’s discouraging that people aren’t more alert to civil liberties issues, the debate over this policy may well be a case study in the value of a relatively open approach to public comment. On this proposal—like on the visitor ID issue and the Martin Luther King Day issue—the abundance of dissent and criticism may ultimately result in better policy-making. At least it offers that chance.
The policy’s defenders argue that “uncivil” and “disrespectful” speakers deter other people from speaking. Yet there has certainly been no shortage of people speaking their minds at board meetings. What do those people have that the (unidentified) others don’t?
One awkward moment stood out at tonight’s meeting. Tuyet Dorau asked, “Who wrote the policy?” The chair of the committee that approved it, Brian Kirschling, could say only that “it showed up” at the committee meeting. No other board member would answer the question. The central administrators gave inconsistent responses and had no direct answer. For all the talk about “accountability” in education, funny how hard it is to find out who actually does what. Who triggered this lengthy detour into what is likely to be a dead end?