Kirkwood School Board discusses possible changes to public comment at meetings

Missouri

KIRKWOOD, Mo. – The Kirkwood School Board recently discussed possible changes to its public comment procedures after multiple meetings with heated public comment sections.

During a Monday, November 15 work session, the school board reviewed its current public comment policy and procedures and compared them to other school districts for ideas. With the current policy, the public comment section is a total of 30 minutes at the beginning of board meetings where any nonschool board member can register to speak once for three minutes.

Upon board approval, the public comment section can be extended. Board members do not respond to comments made by individuals. A registered speaker cannot give their time to someone who has already spoken.

Additionally, comments can be submitted online and are read out loud at meetings.

Board member Angie Bernardi suggested that the board address any misinformation from speakers at the end of public comment, as done by other school districts.

“I know we sit and listen to some things that aren’t actually facts, so it would be nice to be able to restate that,” she said.

Superintendent David Ulrich said he is reluctant to do that during meetings, “as that could get into a back and forth, and appear to be adversarial.”

He suggested there could be an addendum to YouTube posts or have another section on the school district’s website explaining the comment said by the speaker and the board’s response.

Below are some other changes that were discussed by board members:

  • Having a speaker hierarchy that would allow students to speak first, followed by parents, residents and nonresidents.
  • Lowering a speaker’s time to two minutes in the event of a large turnout.
  • Reading an online comment per each in-person speaker or allow for a certain amount time where online comments are read.
  • Having two public comment sections: one at the beginning to address agenda items and one at the end to address nonagenda items.

At the end of the meeting, Board President Jean Marie Andrews thanked her fellow board members for sitting through “some really tough public comments.”

“I know it’s not easy to sit here and hear from people, and quite frankly to be scared. None of us signed up to be board members thinking that we would be afraid, and so I’m sorry and I hope our public understands that the position that we’re in because it’s not OK,” she said.

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