Following a year in which school board members were criticized by the public and each other, they're looking at policies to limit public comments and encourage etiquette during meetings.
During a strategic planning session on Monday night, the New Lenox School District 122 board talked about policies that regard how they interact with each other, district administrators and the public.
Dialogue With the Board
Some who spoke during previous meetings , which previously would listen but not respond to public comments. New board President Nick DiSandro also said he was interested in seeing more dialogue, and a new policy the board read Monday states that the board president would act as a spokesman and could address community members during meetings.
Supt. Mike Sass could also address public speakers, and this would be done during the public comment portion of meetings, the superintendent's report or at a future meeting.
Reading Letters at Meetings
Another issue addressed regarding public comments is whether written correspondence could be read at a meeting. In March then-board President Kathy Markus read a letter that attacked member Maureen Broderick, who at the time was running for re-election on the school board.
The district researched the name, “Hunter Smith,” who claimed to be a parent. His name was not found in the phone book or the list of parents, and the P.O. Box from which his letter was supposedly sent had been closed.
To make sure people who can't attend meetings can still be heard, the board is considering a policy that would allow letters or emails to be read, but only if there is a verifiable name, address and phone number included and if the letter is not slanderous or political campaigning. No anonymous letters will be read under any circumstances.
Denying Public Comment
Finally, a new addition to the board's policy includes language that allows the president to deny someone's opportunity to speak on a topic if that person has addressed the board on the same topic within the previous two months.
The board cited legalities allowing this that say time should be afforded for public comments under reasonable constraints, and the Illinois State Board of Education released information saying there's no reason a board can't limit comments in this fashion.
"We talked about the whole freedom of speech issue without it turning into a free-for-all," DiSandro said. "If you're saying the same thing we can end up being disrespectful to our time, the staff’s time and the speaker’s time. We don’t need it."
To reduce in-fighting and encourage cooperation, the board could sign off on policies that give direction on communicating with each other and others.
In an agreement members will sign with Sass, board of education members will not act individually but may ask their own questions, as long as the board president or entire board is copied on an email. Additionally, board members looked over an agreement to respect each other and their diverse opinions.