Cumberland Co. (ECWd) -
It's not often that we get to report on public bodies taking steps to fix issues raised by citizens, however, in this case, I thank the School Board for taking steps to revise their board policy on public comment and ensuring it is consistent with our US Constitution as well as state law.
During the last School Board meeting of the Neoga school district I raised issue with a board policy on public comment. Specifically, the policy outlined the following:
"The Board president may shorten or lengthen a person's opportunity to speak. The President may also deny the opportunity to speak to a person who has previously addressed the Board on the same subject within the past 2 months."
I expressed my concern regarding this policy and explained why such a policy is a violation of the citizens 1st Amendment rights to petition their government. Specifically, you can not restrict the content of a persons speech when they address the public body. In this case, the school was restricting peoples speech by denying them the opportunity to speak if their subject was the same in the past 2 months.
The example I used to explain why this was unconstitutional was a simple stop sign at an intersection. If a citizen wanted a sign installed or removed, they have a constitutional right to raise that issue at each and every meeting of the public body under our 1st Amendment right of petitioning our government.
In addition, when a policy outlines a specific time allotted to a person's public comment, they can not shorten that time without also facing legal and constitutional concerns.
This policy was adopted in February of 2004 and clearly is inconsistent with our constitutional rights. I urged the Board of Education to review the policy with their attorney and make the needed correction regarding those areas that violated our 1st Amendment Constitutional rights.
Today I received the letter below that confirms the policy is outdated and that a revised policy will have its first reading at the March BOE meeting.
I thank Dr. Pressler and the Board of Education for taking steps to correct bad policy and better protect the School District from possible Federal litigation.