Sarasota School Board proposes new public consultation rule for meetings


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The Sarasota County School Board voted 3-2 to impose stricter public consultation rules, after more than a year of meetings with very loud community members wishing to address the government council.

Board members Shirley Brown, Tom Edwards and Jane Goodwin voted to announce a new policy before officially voting on it next month. Karen Rose and Bridget Ziegler opposed the change.

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The most significant change in policy is to divide public comments into two parts, one being devoted to meeting agenda items and a second public comment period at the end of the meeting when the audience can talk about general points.

If more than 30 people register to speak, the board chair can limit each person to two minutes or limit public comments to one hour.

The policy prohibits “actions such as cheering, mocking, discriminatory, unreasonably loud, abusive or profane language or gestures.”

Supportive board members said it was to ensure school district staff did not have to sit for hours of public commentary, which were often dominated by national issues in the past year, such as critical stroke theory or COVID-19.

“(We) want to make sure the case is over and then they have my full attention,” Edwards said.

Rose and Ziegler both said the changes would only weaken public confidence in the school board and would come at the worst possible time.

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In the future, parents or stakeholders wishing to address the board on something that is not specifically on the board’s agenda will have to wait until the end of the meeting, if the board passes the rule next month. . .

Ziegler said that whenever the board discussed the change in the public comment policy, it was “almost always” after the public criticized the board.

“Then we find ourselves saying how to do this again?” Ziegler said.

Brown, the board chair, said school board meetings are not the most effective place for parents to voice their grievances and it is more effective to work directly with administrators.

Ryan McKinnon covers schools for the Herald-Tribune. Connect with him at [email protected] or on Twitter: @JRMcKinnon. Support the Sarasota Herald-Tribune by subscribing today.

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