Wicomico School Board Revises Public Comments Policy

SALISBURY – Citing community feedback, the Wicomico County Board of Education announced last week it would adjust its public comment policy to allow for more participation.

In a special meeting held Aug. 30, the school board approved a revised Public Comments Protocol Policy that will take effect starting with its next board meeting, scheduled for Sept. 13. The new policy will increase the number of speakers from 10 to 20 and will allow for on-site registration if those 20 slots have not been filled through online registration.

“The Board received some feedback over the past month on the newly adopted Board of Education Public Comments Protocol Policy,” a statement reads. “Board members and senior leadership discussed the feedback, reviewed public comment guidelines in other school systems and governmental agencies, and drafted revisions for the full Board’s consideration.”

In July, Wicomico County Public Schools announced a new policy for public comments at its monthly board meetings. The new protocol allowed no more than 10 speakers and required commenters to pre-register up to 24 hours before a scheduled meeting. If more than 10 individuals had registered to speak, the board would conduct a random drawing.

“All individuals submitting a public comment registration will be notified in advance of the scheduled board meeting regarding the status of their request,” the policy reads.

Since that time, however, some community members have come forth opposing the new policy, arguing it limited their ability to voice their concerns before the school board. In last month’s board meeting, for example, a member of the audience said she had come to the board meeting to speak, only to learn that she had to sign up ahead of time.

“It’s like the board keeps coming up with new guidelines, rules to keep the public from speaking to them, and I am protesting that right now …,” she said. “I don’t think what you are doing is right, and I think this board needs to learn to let the public speak and stop making up new rules all the time.”

Board President Gene Malone, however, noted that the new policy was simply created to better plan the school board meetings.

“We do have a new policy where you sign up in advance so that we can plan the time for our board meeting and have the planning available for the business meeting,” he said.

The revised policy, introduced last week, will now allow for 20 speakers, with signups on a first-come, first-served basis. The policy also eliminates random drawings among pre-registered speakers and allows for in-person registration.

“If all 20 speaking slots are not filled through pre-registration, people will now be able to complete the online registration in person at the meeting venue in the hour before the scheduled start time of the Board meeting …,” the revision reads. “If more than 20 people wish to make comments, only the first 20 pre-registered will make comments during the Board meeting.”

The revised public comment policy will take effect at the board’s next meeting, to be held Sept. 13 at 7 p.m. Pre-registration for public comments opened on Sept. 6 and will close 24 hours before each board meeting to allow time for those who have pre-registered to be notified of the status of their request.

“The pre-registration will close at 7 p.m. Monday, Sept. 12 for the Sept. 13 Board meeting,” a statement reads. “If additional slots are available, members of the public will be able to register to provide public comments on a first-come, first-served basis starting one hour before the scheduled board meeting begins.”

Those without internet access can pre-register in person at the school system’s main office, 2424 Northgate Drive, Salisbury.

“The public comments section of the agenda is an opportunity for the Superintendent and Board to listen to individuals’ own comments on topics concerning Wicomico County Public Schools …,” the school system reports. “No signs or posters may be displayed by the public during board meetings. Only verbal comments are permitted during the public comment session of a Board meeting.”

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.