School board considers changing speakers policy at meetings


Photo taken from the public video of the meeting

Mike Dittman of Hanover Township, addressies the Talawanda Board of Education at its Sept. 20 meeting about the district’s finances. He was one of several members of the public to speak at that meeting.

By Claudia Zaunz

The Talawanda Board of Education is considering requiring members of the public to sign up in advance if they want to speak at school board meetings. 

A first reading of the rule change by Human Resources Director Dennis Malone was heard at the Monday, Oct. 18 board meeting. The move would revise the board’s public participation policy (po0169.1)

“I think this reflects an increased interest in school board meetings across the country that didn’t seem to happen a few years ago,” Malone said. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Talawanda meetings often have had numerous citizens addressing issues related to masks, vaccines and virtual learning. The board currently limits individuals to three minutes at the microphone and allows for 30 minutes of public comment at each meeting. 

According to Superintendent Edward Theroux, revisions and new policies are necessary per changes in legislation, court decrees and Ohio Department of Education requirements. 

Theroux said at the meeting the proposed change was recommended by Neola, an educational consulting firm used by the board.

The policy, if approved, would require attendees to “register their intention to participate in the public participation portion of the meeting upon their arrival at the meeting,” the document states. The registration would then be given to the board president who presides over the board meeting.

The proposed policy would keep individuals from spontaneously speaking up to react to someone else’s claims.

“We will have to set up a system, …,  and of course it would be a couple months before that would be actually implemented,” Malone said.

Theroux does not think that this revised policy would discourage individuals from participating in the public session portion of the board meeting. 

“Other districts and other agencies have required a registration process for many years,” Theroux said. “It may take some time for our community to get used to this change.”

Malone also clarified that speakers should have a legitimate interest in actions of the board. The proposed policy states that “district employees, students, residents, locally elected officials, or local business owners, may participate during the designated public participation portion(s) of a meeting.”

Policy 0169.1 will be presented at a second reading in November and go into effect in December if school board members approve the revision. 

“My family and I very much appreciate the time and access for public comments for those present in the building,” Amy Shaiman, Oxford resident and mother of a child in Kramer elementary school, said at the meeting.

However, Shaiman advocated for increasing the communication forms which allow public participation at board meetings. While she appreciates that meetings are being live-streamed, she regrets that there is no longer a way to comment through an online platform, as was the case last year during the height of the pandemic. 

“Being able to comment remotely opened attendance for these meetings for those who are currently unable to voice their opinions,” Shaiman said.

“Please don’t limit us to only standing at this microphone,” Shaiman added. 

Under current regulations, online public comments are not allowed.

“While individuals would like remote public participation and remote board members, school boards are not allowed to execute meetings in this fashion,” Theroux said.

Theroux encourages individuals to contact the board of education, superintendent, treasurer, and staff through email and telephone calls, which would allow for a dialogue between constituents and the administration.

“We encourage individuals to contact us when there are issues,” Theroux said. “They do not have to wait for the next board meeting.”