PARKER – Douglas County School Board meetings typically veer off course during the 30-minute public comment segment when antagonists rant against education reform, the district staff and the board of directors but that may soon change.
A new public comment policy proposed by School Board President Kevin Larsen would invite public statements on specific action items on the agenda and then hear unrelated concerns during a second comment period at the end of the meeting.
In addition, the agendas posted in advance would include attachments of relevant background information to better inform the public.
The policy draft that received its first reading Tuesday didn’t appease the anti-reform activists who accused the board of violating their rights of free speech and expression.
They repeated complaints that clapping isn’t allowed, comments are cut off by time limits and seats are limited in the board meeting room.
“We’re still here. We’re still frustrated!” declared Cindra Barnard, who enlisted the ACLU to sue the Douglas County School District (DCSD) for implementing the Choice Scholarship Program in 2011, a case now pending in the Colorado Supreme Court.
Instead of allowing the school board to revise its public comment rules, Barnard said she wants a policy review committee reinstated that would work with the community, teachers and district personnel to create “solid public policy.”
Larsen said that his public comment policy is based on procedures enforced at the Colorado General Assembly’s committee meetings that hear testimony from citizens and experts on proposed legislation.
The legislature’s rules require speakers to sign in, not talk until recognized by the committee chair, limit comments to the bill and refrain from disturbances such as clapping.
Similar protocols are implemented by Congress as well as most public bodies in Colorado, said school board director Craig Richardson, who added the rules do not violate First Amendment rights.
The school board will vote on the new public comment policy at its March 25 meeting, after selecting an individual to replace former board director Justin Williams who resigned in January.
The board whittled applicants down to six finalists who will be interviewed during next week’s meeting. Most of the finalists have served on committees associated with the school district.
Finalists include Gary Colley, a teacher who retired in 1995, who stated on his application that five years later he began appearing before the school board “to effectively engage the diverse community of Douglas County, to ascertain where this community stands on the critical issues facing DCSD.”
Shaylee Holland, an attorney whose three children attend DCSD schools, is currently a member of the Board of Directors of American Academy.
“I am aware of the issues and challenges” facing the board, Holland said. “I also know that it is moving in a positive and groundbreaking direction. I couldn’t be more pleased with the current leadership.”
Dilpreet Jammu, a business development executive, said he hopes his expertise will be an asset and aims to be “a valued member of this team.”
David Ray, a retired Douglas County teacher and principal, said his experience will be an asset and that he recognizes “the emotional challenge that comes with being pioneers of change.”
Rich Robbins, a United States Air Force veteran, said he’s “an advocate for public education and parental choice. I want to be an advocate for parental involvement in their child’s education.”
Franceen Thompson is a longtime DCSD activist who has worked on numerous committees and was appointed by former state House Speaker Mike May to serve on the Charter School and Authorizing Commission.
“I support and advocate for school reforms and fiscally conservative principles within the school district,” said Thompson.