HB 2840 tells us five things about public comment at school board meetings. Superintendents and school board members will need to study this new law carefully, and make any necessary changes in board procedures.
First, the new law tells us that every member who wishes to address the board regarding a particular agenda item must be allowed to do so. This one simple change in law could lengthen some board meetings considerably. Consider school boundary changes for example. There could, in some districts, be hundreds of people who wish to speak to that item.
Second, this opportunity must be provided to the citizen either before or during the board’s consideration of the item. While most school districts place the “public comment” section of the agenda at the beginning of the meeting, apparently there have been some governmental entities that have placed it at the end. One of the stated purposes of this law is to allow Joe Citizen to have his say without having to sit through a lengthy meeting.
Third, the statute authorizes the board to adopt “reasonable rules” about this, including a rule that would limit a person to a total amount of time to address a particular item. The statute does not limit the board’s rule making authority to that one item. It is just mentioned as an example. Board presidents and superintendents will want to consider what “reasonable rules” would be appropriate for your district, particularly focusing on those rare situations in which the sheer number of citizens who wish to speak presents practical problems.
Fourth, your time limit rules must permit twice the amount of time for a person who addresses the board through a translator. So if you give each speaker three minutes, you would need to give six to the person who needs a translator. This part of the statute specifically requires this for language translators, but a reasonable accommodation would also be required for a person with a disability who needs a sign language interpreter. There is an exception to this “twice the time” provision but it only applies if your district has “simultaneous translation equipment.” We’ve seen that at the United Nations, but have not encountered it in a Texas school district, so we think that exception has little application.
Fifth, your rules cannot prohibit criticism, other than those things that are prohibited by law. Citizens are permitted to criticize any “act, omission, policy, procedure, program or service.”
HB 2840 will apply to the first board meeting you hold after September 1, 2019. Procedures and protocols should be discussed and approved by the board before that time. At Walsh Gallegos we are giving this a lot of thought, and are ready to help you adopt procedures that will comply with the statute while maintaining order at your board meetings. Give us a call if you’d like our assistance.
DAWG BONE: YOU DIDN’T REALLY NEED TO GO HOME BEFORE MIDNIGHT ANYWAY, RIGHT?
Tomorrow: Teacher use of force—another Commissioner decision.