After months of public comments sessions taking up hours of its twice-monthly meetings—and often generating national news sound bites—the School Board is tightening the reins on who may speak, citing an effort to prevent politicization by “out-of-town agitators.”
Starting at Tuesday’s meeting to participate in the public comment period, speakers must either be residents in the county, owners of businesses located in the county, students, parents of students, or employees of the school system, according to a Sept. 23 announcement of the changes. Speakers must prove they are qualified to speak by providing a driver’s license, a bill for proof of residency, a current employee or school ID, and email from the district during the current school year regarding a student, or a student report card or progress report.
“The School Board is making these changes in order to ensure that the voices of our parents and the LCPS community are heard rather than out-of-town agitators who would make the Board meetings a platform for national politics or to enhance their own media profiles,” Chairwoman Brenda Sheridan (Sterling) said in the statement.
The statement also said that neighboring jurisdictions enforce much stricter guidelines to determine who may speak.
“Even with these changes, the School Board is one of the few governmental bodies that has minimal restrictions on speakers. Even with these changes, the School Board has some of the most open public comment practices in our region,” Sheridan said.
The change comes after the June 22 meeting erupted into chaos during the public comment portion of the meeting, and Superintendent Scott Ziegler declaring an unlawful assembly. During that meeting, droves of parents spoke out both in support of and against the district’s equity work—dubbed liberal political indoctrination by critics—and the then-proposed transgender student protections. Two parents were detained by deputies. Clips from that meeting continue to air on nationwide conservative news networks.
The Aug. 10 meeting featured a revised speaking format, where only 10 speakers were permitted in the building at one time and were required to line up and enter the board room one at a time.
School district spokesman Wayde Byard said that the changes will be the practice going forward.
Before the upcoming Sept. 28 meeting, conservative commentator Matt Walsh will appear at a rally outside of the School Administration Building in protest of the recently adopted transgender student protections.