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Board of ed considers policies restricting public comment

BOE buildingUPPER MARLBORO – The number of speakers per meeting and what they can speak on may be restricted if the Prince George’s County Board of Education passes proposed policies introduced during its most recent work session.

At a meeting held at 1 p.m. on April 6, the board of education formally introduced changes to a board policy regarding public comment at public meetings. The changes were only a first reader, meaning board discussion or comment on the issue was not necessary; however a few members found the changes egregious and said so during their introduction.

Boardmember Edward Burroughs, III said the revamped policy would restrict residents in a burdensome way.

“There are times the budget might not change, or the issue might not change, but the person might still want to communicate their concern or their approval to the board once they learn more information. We shouldn’t prohibit that,” Burroughs said.

Burroughs and fellow Boardmember Raaheela Ahmed raised several issues with the possible changes, specifically regarding intimidation of speakers and restricting public comment topics. This led the policy committee Chair Curtis Valentine and Boardmember K. Alexander Wallace to ask Board Chair Segun Eubanks for an emergency committee meeting on the issue. The date of that emergency meeting has yet to be set.

The policy changes in question are clearly noted in online versions of the policy, which is Policy No. 8345. The proposed changes state that the board’s assistants will only take public comment registrations from the “individual directly,” meaning no third parties or interpreters can call to register a resident to speak at a board of education meeting.

In addition, the possible policy reads that the board assistant can refuse to register a resident to speak if they do not give their name and state the purpose of their testimony.

“The maximum number of speakers shall not exceed 15 since the total time allotted is 45 minutes,” the changes read. “The board will reserve10 of the 15 (maximum) slots for individuals who wish to comment on issues that are on the agenda for that day’s board meeting. The other five slots will be reserved for speakers who wish to comment on other issues that are not specifically on the agenda.”

The anticipated changes also include additions to the policy in the form of restrictions on what residents can speak on. Personnel issues, matters on appeal, complaints “identifying individual students,” advertising or solicitation of services or products and any topic that will have a formal public hearing are all on the list of banned topics from board of education meeting public comments.

“In addition, no individual may address the same topic before the board within a 30 day period, unless there has been a change in status of that agenda or non-agenda item,” the changed policy would read. This means if there is no movement on an issue, residents cannot readdress the topic within 30 days of their original testimony.

Burroughs took issue with that.

“If I work this day and I can’t make it to the budget hearing and there’s a board meeting the next week and I can make it to that, I should be able to testify whenever I can,” he said.

However, the planned changes also state that there will be no limit on the number of speakers at a public hearing, though it also strikes school closings as a reason for holding a public hearing.

The changes leave the ruling of any comment out of order up to the chair of the board, Eubanks. In the past, the board has typically allowed more than 15 residents to speak at a meeting, despite previous restrictions. The proposed changes leave registration for comment soley to the board’s assistant.

“I think this board should strongly consider having language in that policy that address intimidation in some way, shape or form,” Ahmed said. “I think it could be and should be discussed further on.”

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