NEWPORT — The Newport School Board has been urged to change its recent policy-limiting members of the public to three minutes when they speak at board meetings.
In a letter to the board, eight community members called the move counter-productive.
The letter was brought to the attention of the full board by School Board Vice Chairman Virginia Irwin at its July 11th meeting. However, when none of the eight individuals signing the written request were present, the letter was not read by Irwin.
It was signed by Harold LaValley, Shaun Carroll Sr., Roy M. Malool, Guenter K. Hubert, Kathleen A. Hubert, Cary L. Whipple, Christine Whipple and Bryan Huot.
The three-minute regulation has not met with the approval of two members of the public who attend school board meetings on a regular basis.
At the July 11th school board meeting, those two members of the public who spoke didn’t use up their three-minute allocation. When they concluded their comments, the two elected to remain standing in a silent mode at the podium looking straight ahead at the five school board members seated at the front of the meeting room.
When the bell sounded at the end of the three minutes, they returned to their respective seats and the school board continued on with its meeting agenda.
The letter containing the signatures of the eight letter writers follows:
“We, the undersigned, are employers, property owners, taxpayers—deeply invested citizens. We care greatly about our community, including the youngest generations and our schools.
Through our daily interactions and conversations, we know that our fellow citizens do as well. The serious concerns currently being felt over recent board policies only serves to reflect this fact.
We ask that you reconsider your new policy on public forum, specifically your requirement that intended comments and/or questions be submitted in writing in advance of meetings, and that all comments be limited to three minutes.
We understand your reasons for these policy changes. We, too, believe there must be a required code of decorum. However, after months with this new policy in place, we have witnessed how it has restricted many thoughtful, invested members of our public in their attempts to share valuable information or to raise issues of crucial concern.
Significant efforts to discuss school funding issues have been hampered. Legitimate discussion about assessments and discipline concerns, for example, have not been heard.
Healthy communal dialog has been precluded by your recent policies, and a general sentiment among our community is that citizen stakeholders have lost a voice in regard to the general welfare of the students we invest in and the teachers whose salaries we pay.
We recognize and appreciate your attempts toward safeguarding our public schools and the type of discourse that surrounds your efforts. However, we feel that such strict time limits on community involvement during public forum has hampered constructive dialogue and, in fact, served to erode public trust in you as the elected trustees of our public schools, and in the well-being of democratic structures in our town.
This community wants to be part of the solution process. We urge you to please remove the counter-productive restrictions you have imposed that keep members from doing so.”