Monday, March 9, 2015

School Board Meeting civility at risk

“No names, please: Parent challenges board’s bid to keep comments from getting personal.”

That title on a front-page story in Sunday’s Naples Daily News was meant to get your attention. It got mine. (Online article behind paywall here.)

Two School Board members and some community members, according to the Daily News article, object to School Board policy 0169.1 that has been interpreted to mean speakers cannot personally make comments by name about or to members of the Board, the Superintendent, or staff. Yet according to the article, "similar policies in other school districts are not uncommon. The Miami-Dade School Board, for example, doesn’t allow speakers to address board members by name and bans 'personal attacks.'"

Those of us who have attended or watched meetings where Board members, the Board attorney and/or the Superintendent have been addressed personally know how important this policy is for keeping meetings civil.

At issue is this sentence:
The presiding officer may: 1. interrupt, warn, or terminate a participant’s statement when the statement is too lengthy, personally directed, abusive, obscene, or irrelevant;… [emphasis added]
The policy to be discussed Tuesday proposes either removing the words “personally directed,” or replacing those words with:
The presiding officer may: 1.interrupt, warn, or terminate a participant’s statement when such statement is too lengthy, abusive, obscene, irrelevant or repetitive. Comments that are personally directed are allowed when they are authorized speech that are related to the topic being discussed or within the scope of District business so long as such comments are not abusive, obscene, irrelevant, or repetitive;
While examples could no doubt be posited of a personally-directed comment that is not abusive, obscene, irrelevant or repetitive, allowing personally-directed public comments starts the Board down a slippery slope. I want the Board Chair to have as much discretion as possible to ensure that speakers maintain decorum at Board meetings; removing the words "personally directed" limits that discretion.

Read the proposed policy changes here.

But there is a line between maintaining decorum and violating a speaker's First Amendment rights. According to the Naples Daily News, Collier parent Cory Seegmiller filed a lawsuit last month against the School Board and Board Chair Kathleen Curatolo claiming his freedom of speech and freedom of equal protection were violated because he was stopped from speaking at a Board meeting as a result of this policy.

The article quotes Seegmiller’s lawyer as saying Curatolo will be served during Tuesday’s Board meeting.

The proposed changes to the policy are on Tuesday's agenda to be discussed by the Board toward the end of the meeting.

If you’re concerned that the proposed change will make it harder to maintain the civility of Board meetings, please join me at the Board meeting or email Board members with your comments.

School Board Chair Kathleen Curatolo - curatoka@collierschools.com
School Board Member Erika Donalds - donale@collierschools.com
School Board Member Kelly Lichter - lichteke@collierschools.com
School Board Vice-Chair Julie Sprague - spraguju@collierschools.com
School Board Member Roy Terry - terryro@collierschools.com

The business portion of the meeting begins at 5:30 PM Tuesday, March 10, at the District Administration Building, 5775 Osceola Trail.

I hope to see you there.




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