published Saturday, April 13th, 2013

Bradley County Board of Education debates speakers policy

CLEVELAND, Tenn. — The Bradley County Board of Education is divided on possible changes to its policies governing how the public communicates with the board.

On Thursday, board members agreed to address the matter in a future work session after a vigorous debate over loosening the prerequisites for the public to speak at board meetings.

"We need to discuss a way to provide the public a chance to speak before agenda items are voted on," said board member Chris Turner, who initiated the discussion and recommended drafting an amendment to current policy.

Under current policy, people wishing to appear before the board must submit a written request on their subject of discussion to the director of schools 24 hours before the meeting.

That seems quite "prohibitive," said board member Nicholas Lillios, who cited problems involving changes to board agendas that sometime occur less than 24 hours before the meetings.

While the board typically tries to post its agenda on the Bradley schools website a week in advance, allowing changes to it within 24 hours of a meeting but not allowing petitioners to speak in the same timeframe might be a contradiction, Chairman Charlie Rose said.

"I do appreciate [this discussion] if it helps our relationship with the public," he said.

On the other hand, school boards that have gone to more-open policies have come to regret it, said board member Christy Critchfield. She cited child safety issues and time wasted on nonboard issues. Addressing student discipline concerns in a board meeting undermines student privacy and that should be handled by school administrators, she said.

"I'm for anything else, such as a public forum and roundtable discussions, but I don't think a board meeting is a place to do that," Critchfield said.

There also is the problem of people who say they have legitimate board business but instead discuss other things, she said.

Lillios said Critchfield sounded as though she did not trust the public to speak to the board.

Turner said the current policy is at odds with Bradley County Schools' vision statement, and that he believed the board needed to be transparent and fully accessible.

According to the Section 1.404 of the online school board policy manual, the "chair may recognize individuals not on the agenda for remarks to the Board if he/she determines that such is in the public interest. A majority vote of members present can overrule the decision of the chair."

The board did not announce a date for the work session to discuss the policy.

Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at paul.leach.press@gmail.com.

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