Board approves policy for regulation public comment

SHERIDAN – The Sheridan School Board approved the second reading of a policy governing the procedure for public comment at future board meetings, during their regular meeting last Tuesday.

However, the vote wasn’t unanimous. The second reading of the policy passed 4-3 after a comment period where people expressed their concern that the policy could restrict public participation.

The district currently allows for a public comment period on any public matter not listed specifically on the agenda, as well as a public comment period for any item already listed on the agenda. The district’s policy 1420F, which was approved on a second reading Tuesday, mandates that individuals who wish to address the board during the public comment portion of the meeting must check-in on a sign up sheet with the district clerk and indicate a general topic on which they will speak. Once the list is compiled the board chairperson will call individuals to speak in the order they have signed up on the list.

Individuals who wish to speak during the public comment period or on a specific agenda item will be held to a three-minute time limit. The new policy states the time limit is “necessary to ensure efficient completion of Board meetings.”

Each individual will be given one opportunity to address the board, and time slots may not be yielded from one commenter to another in the interest of extending the three-minute period, according to the policy.

Should an individual’s presentation or comments to the board need to exceed the three-minute time limitation, a written or emailed request for additional time may be submitted to the board chairperson no less than 48 hours prior to the start of the meeting. The chairperson may grant the request if the subject of the presentation requires additional time.

Several of the comments from the public focused on the board’s future willingness to be flexible on time limits.
School board chairman Jeff Marsh explained that people who needed more time for comments should follow the policy and submit a request for an extension to their allotted three minutes.

The motion follows the November and December meetings where the board received training from Montana School Boards Association attorney Kris Goss on public meeting law and confidentiality law in Montana. Goss participated in discussion following the first reading of policy 1420F, which included questions about what the board should do if multiple individuals wish to speak on the same subject, and whether or not the policy overstepped an individual’s right to be heard.

In other news the board received a presentation from the Montana Office of Public Instruction on the recently adopted Common Core State Standards for English language arts, literacy and mathematics.

According to a Montana OPI fact sheet, the Montana Common Core Standards will help students better understand what is expected of them as they progress through school while better preparing them with the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed in college and careers. Educators will benefit from the common core standards by having access to a computer adaptive assessment system and having clear goals for student learning and achievement in mathematics, English language arts and literacy. The program will also give educators a greater depth of understanding in each unit of study.

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