Derry School Board Discuss Its Public Comment Policy

By Alex Malm

During the Dec. 13 Derry School Board meeting, a motion to suspend the rules regarding public comment led to a discussion of whether or not the policy should be modified.
“I thought a lot about our policy BEDH,” said School Board member, Brenda Willis.
She said since they haven’t been able to have a policy committee and have heard from a lot of people who have had asked for the chance to speak during their school board meetings, she thought they should suspend the rules until they could meet.
School Board member, Derick Anderson, said in the policy the Chairperson already has the ability to determine public comment, which includes allowing people to speak on whatever topic, they want.
Board member, Paul Lutz, said he thought they needed to have some guidelines on the topic of conversations.
“I think we need to have some parameters of what we focus on,” said Lutz.
School Board member, David Clapp said he thought residents and parents of students in the school district should be able to speak on any issues.
“They should be able to come to us and talk to us about whatever they want to talk to us about,” said Clapp.
He said he thought they should give the public every opportunity to speak.
“I think it’s our job to listen to the public, the good and the bad,” said Clapp.
The biggest difference between the old policy and the current policy is that the previous policy didn’t stipulate that public comment had to be in regards to agenda items.
Superintendent, Austin Garofalo, said they had people speaking about items that they didn’t have.
Garofalo stated the main issue was they were hearing from people about things they didn’t have any context about.
“It’s interesting that we forgot about that,” said Garofalo.
He explained if the School Board decides to let people speak on any items then it should at least be on the agenda first.
“My frustration is we went through the policy committee and changed this for a reason because of what we were dealing with,” said Garofalo.
He said he would rather they have a discussion as a policy committee before changing anything.
Anderson said anything permanent would have to go through the full reading processes like any other policy. He added that suspending the rules would be just for the meeting.
School Board Chair, Erika Cohen, said the previous policy also didn’t stipulate that people had to be Derry residents or be parents of students in the district in order to speak during public comment. She said she thinks that should remain in any changes they make.
“I think that is very important,” said Cohen.
The School Board ultimately agreed to allow public comment on any topic during the meeting.
The next Derry School Board meeting is slated to take place on Jan. 10.