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Bill requiring school boards to hold public comment nears final passage

House Education Committee Chair Rep. Regina Huff advocated for her bill requiring 15 minutes of public comment at school board meetings.
House Education Committee Chair Rep. Regina Huff advocated for her bill requiring 15 minutes of public comment at school board meetings.

A House bill requiring local Kentucky school boards to hold 15 minutes of public comment during their monthly meetings passed a Senate committee Thursday, bringing the measure close to final passage.

House Education Committee Chair Rep. Regina Huff said she brought the measure in response to complaints from parents who said their school boards did not allow public comment. 

In particular, she said one parent whose child was suffering from “mask acne” was unable to address her school board publicly to oppose its mask mandate.

“We need to make sure that our public school system has public input, and I don't think 15 minutes is too much to ask,” Huff told the Senate Education Committee.

Huff said her bill was not aimed specifically at the Jefferson County Board of Education, which has come under fire for refusing to allow in-person comment for several months. The board stopped holding in-person public comment after an October meeting that devolved into a shouting match. One member of the public allegedly threatened another member of the public at the meeting.

The board returned to allowing public comment in February.

Rob Mattheu, a member of a JCPS policy committee and former JCPS parent, told the committee he supported the measure, but that he thought it needed several changes in order to allow school board meetings to stay safe and orderly.

He said the measure needed to give boards the authority to set rules for orderly comment periods, including sign-up requirements, and the option for the chair to cancel public comment if “public safety is at risk.”

“I can't get over the very real fears that my local school board members have expressed in our policy meetings that one day an angry member of the public is going to resort to violence, instead of angry words,” Mattheu said, pointing to vitriolic meetings he’s attended and an alleged threat against JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio over his mask policy.

Mattheu also said the bill seemed “hypocritical,” since other governing bodies, including legislative committees like the one he spoke to, are not required to hold public comment.

Huff said that nothing in the bill prevents boards from removing people from meetings if they’re not complying with reasonable decorum. She also encouraged boards who have security concerns to use their school-based police officers at meetings. 

The measure passed 11-0, with bi-partisan support. It now heads to the Senate floor for a final vote.

Jess Clark is LPMs Education and Learning Reporter. Email Jess at jclark@lpm.org.

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