Proposed updates to public comment rules at Carmel school board meetings limit who can speak, implements lottery system 

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The Carmel Clay Schools board of trustees is considering updates to its rules regarding public comment at school board meetings and a new policy to promote civility and decorum across the district. The school board briefly discussed the proposals at its Sept. 13 workshop session but did not vote on either item. 

Among the proposed updates to the procedures for public comment include limiting speakers to those who live within CCS boundaries or work for the district, determining the order of speakers through a lottery system and requiring speakers to sign up at least 10 minutes before the meeting. 

Currently, anyone is permitted to give public comment. Participants speak in the order they sign up and speakers must sign up at least five minutes before the meeting begins. 

CCS suspended public comment at school board meetings in August in response to what school officials described as disruptions, verbal attacks, intimidation and inappropriate behavior at previous board meetings. School boards are not required to provide time for public comment except on matters that require a public hearing, such as superintendent contracts and certain budget actions. Most board meetings are required to be open to the public. 

In addition to changes to public comment, the school board also is considering the adoption of a new policy to promote mutual respect, civility and decorum at all CCS facilities and events. 

The policy identifies disruptive or uncivil behavior as, but not limited to: 

  • Actions taken or words conveyed with the purpose to intimidate, threaten or harass
  • Using profanities and obscenities
  • Raising one’s voice above an appropriate level
  • Personal attacks
  • Gesturing in a manner that causes one to fear for their safety 
  • Invading, or remaining in one’s personal space after being asked to move away
  • Physically blocking others from moving about freely
  • Using physical force or threat of physical force 

Uncivil or disruptive behavior by CCS students or employees will be handled through existing policies in Student Code of Conduct and employee handbooks. Parents or community members who violate the policy a first time would be given a reminder to remain civil and respectful. Subsequent offenses could lead to removal from the room or event, the implementation of a communication plan or a no-trespass order. 

Browning

CCS declined to make school board members available for interviews after the Sept. 13 meeting, but school board member Katie Browning issued a statement Sept. 14 regarding the new civility policy. 

“The board believes school should be a place where mutual respect is practiced and reinforced. Members of the public are welcome to express their views, and we recognize disagreements may occur,” Browning stated. “This new policy relates to the matter in which people communicate and interact. It is intended to promote problem-solving and respectful communications of different viewpoints. However, any conduct that disrupts or interferes with any CCS operation, program, or activity will not be tolerated.

The school board is expected to vote on the changes regarding public comment at its Sept. 27 board meeting. CCS doesn’t expect to bring back the public comment portion of the meeting until its Oct. 26 meeting, at the earliest, according to CCS Director of Community Relations Emily Bauer, who said school board members want the new policy in place before public comment resumes.  


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