Illinois (ECWd) –
The Illinois State Board of Education has posted its agenda for its next meeting Wednesday, August 18, 2021, at 10 AM.
While we found nothing on the agenda regarding any attempted rulemaking for mask mandates at schools, we must admit surprise to their public comment policy.
For a group that is supposed to be in charge of our State Education system, it might do them well to take or re-take the Open Meetings Act training, a beginning course on our US Constitution, and if after that they can’t figure it out they should resign.
The Board outlines that individuals wishing to speak are asked to sign up 30 minutes prior. Additionally, the agenda posting indicates the signup form is only going to be available between 8:30-9:30 am the day of the meeting.
“Individuals who wish to sign up for public participation should complete an online form that will be available from 8:30-9:30 a.m. This form will also be accessible at 100 N. First Street, Springfield, IL. Participants will be able to review the guidelines and indicate if they wish to speak. All public participation speakers must be present at the Board meeting.”
The Attorney General Public Access Counselor has issued numerous opinions on early signup requirements and continually confirms they violate the Open Meetings Act. Pecatonica Township is one of those who received such a ruling this year for their policy that required sign up 15 minutes before the meeting.
Additionally concerns on their public comment policy:
- “Presentations must be specific to educationally relevant issues; individuals wishing to address the Board must indicate on the sign-in sheet the specific topic or issues about which they will be speaking.”
Requiring people to disclose the specific topic or issues they are going to speak on is an unreasonable rule. People have a right to free speech. Part of that speech is to be able to address their government officials and there is no requirement to first tell them the issues they wish to discuss.
- “Priority for presentation of testimony will be given to government officials and individuals who have not previously addressed the Board on a given issue.”
There is no provision in the law that prioritizes speakers during public comment. Such a policy is not reasonable and leads to the discrimination of those who are not government officials, as in citizens. How special is it that we have a Board of Education that thinks government officials are entitled to priority recognition during public comment?
- “Board members may interrupt a speaker at any time to ask questions or make comments as frequently as necessary to clarify the presentation”
So the Board thinks they can just interrupt a speaker at any time? Seriously? Public comment time is just that. It’s the publics’ time, limited to a whopping 3 minutes with this board. The Board wants to ask questions of the speakers. How special. Does the public get to ask questions and get answers to those questions? We ask because of the massive number of school boards in this state that they are not there to answer questions during public comment.
- “No person addressing the Board shall make charges or level complaints against individual employees under the jurisdiction of the State Board of Education. Such charges or complaints will only be accepted in writing and will not be considered unless signed by the person making the charges. The Board will investigate all charges.”
The most basic foundation of our First Amendment permits us to address our public officials to include leveling complaints against them and anyone in their employ. How on earth these people missed this most basic civil right is beyond my comprehension.
- “Boisterous conduct will not be permitted at any Board or Committee meeting, nor will any defamatory or abusive language be tolerated. The Board or Committee chairperson may terminate the privilege of any speaker who violates this regulation.”
Boisterous conduct can result in losing their right to speak? Who defines what constitutes boisterous? What may be considered boisterous to the board who may be on the receiving end of rightful criticism may be nothing more than protected speech to those speaking. Abusive language is also not defined. The Board appears to be walking on a very fine line of violating peoples right to speak under Illinois OMA as well as our under our First Amendment.
We will be attending the meeting to address these issues as well as to live stream the meeting.
A copy of the public comment policy can be downloaded at this link or viewed below.ISBE-Public-Participation-Policy