Comment. Period.
15 Apr 2022 — Journal Gazette
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Editorial Board

During Southwest Allen County Schools' board meeting March 15, parent Shawn McCarthy asked members to consider putting public comments at the start of meetings instead of holding them for the end. The suggestion was warmly received.

"I'm going to tell you, you're right," board president Brad Mills told McCarthy last month. "I want to address it."

The board did. Public comment will now occur at the beginning of meetings, after the Pledge of Allegiance and "communications" : an agenda item the district uses to highlight student and staff achievements.

Superintendent Park Ginder said Mc-Carthy's feedback and a new state law concerning public participation at school board meetings spurred the change. That law takes effect July 1 and mandates all public and charter school boards offer an oral public comment period at all public and virtual meetings.

Currently, the public is allowed to attend board meetings, but boards haven't been required to allow people to speak at most sessions.

The legislation was proposed after confrontational and disruptive school board meetings over the past year, sparked by COVID-19 protocols, saw some boards suspend or restrict public comments.

An original version of the bill would have applied to the governing body of any state or local public agency, such as city and county councils. That language was rolled back, limiting the bill to just school board meetings.

McCarthy had another request for the SACS board this past Tuesday: Board packets, which are posted on the district's website before meetings, should be more comprehensive so the public can better contribute in meeting dialog.

"The packet that we have access to needs to give some summary, a meaningful summary" instead of a one-line description followed by a "big blank sheet of paper," McCarthy said. He was referring to an item on the March 15 agenda that read, "Recommendation of the approval of 2022/2023 Student Handbook." No documentation supporting the recommendation was included in the board packet.

Mills didn't attend Tuesday's board meeting, but let's hope he and the rest of SACS board give this proposal the same consideration as McCarthy's public comments suggestion.

The SACS board does no more or no less than other Indiana school districts. It follows the letter of the law with its school board agendas, but it could do more to better communicate with the taxpaying public.

Would a list of the proposed changes to the 2022/2023 Student Handbook have better prepared meeting attendees during public comments? You bet.

And if the SACS board announced it would attempt to make agenda items more complete and informative, it not only would foster better communication between board members and district stakeholders. It might just convince other school districts and governmental bodies in Allen County to do the same.

Governments going out of their way to better inform the governed truly would be something to celebrate.

This story is provided free courtesy of The Fort Wayne Newspapers.
"Comment. Period." Journal Gazette 15 Apr 2022: A4