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Public comment policy on G-C agenda

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GREENFIELD — At last month’s Greenfield-Central School Board meeting, parents who wanted to address the board about two separate issues made clear how they felt about the board’s strict public-participation policy.

One parent made a scene in the middle of the meeting when she stood and began complaining about how the school is handling an investigation of missing student medications. When she refused to sit down, she was escorted from the room by police officers.

A second group of parents expressed disappointment after the meeting at not being allowed to address the board in support of a coach whose contract was not renewed that night. One parent said he had asked the board for permission and prepared a letter to read but was not granted the opportunity to speak.

The incidents have prompted renewed discussion about the board’s public-participation policy. The matter is on the agenda for Monday’s regular meeting.

“Several board members wanted to clarify their position on orderly and productive feedback from the community during board meetings,” Superintendent Linda Gellert wrote in an email Friday to the Daily Reporter.

While the topic is up for discussion, Monday’s meeting will not be a chance for community members to speak about how they’d like to see parent input handled. Instead, board members will talk through the existing policy, which was revised last year to include having speakers meet with the superintendent prior to being placed on the agenda, board President Retta Livengood said.

Livengood said one misconception among community members is that because the meetings are open to the public, they are also open for public comment.

“It is a meeting held in public; it is not a public meeting, and that’s where I think people have the difficulty, separating those two,” Livengood said.

When the unruly parent confronted the board last month, Livengood told the woman she did not have permission to speak before the board and asked officers to remove her. The woman did not go quietly, yelling back at the board as she was escorted out.

“People get certainly very passionate about a situation, and they are used to having access to people, and I appreciate that,” Livengood said. “The problem is if you start naming names. I think that has such a potential to happen, and it’s very concerning to me.”

The woman did not mention names but pointed out her son’s school was on its third health assistant this year. The corporation confirmed the following day that a former J.B. Stephens Elementary School health assistant is the target of an investigation into missing medication.

Livengood said what people forget is there are multiple avenues for addressing the board, and only one of them requires extra steps because it involves getting in front of a public audience.

“Just because the one that some people want to use … is not as simple as picking up the phone and calling me or walking in my office, it’s caused a ruckus,” she said. “I feel like I have been very accessible to people. I don’t get from the back of Wal-Mart to the front of Wal-Mart without somebody talking to me about something.”

Gellert said the participation policy is in place to maintain the structure of the board meeting. She seconded Livengood’s sentiments about using other avenues to contact board members about topics not on the agenda.

“Clearly, feedback is very important, and we don’t want to discourage that,” she said. “Some parents elect to call, some to email. Others write letters. All communications are shared with board members.” 

The current policy does not allow members of the public to speak to the board about items not on the agenda.

In other words, the parent who was angry about missing medication would have been denied access to the board, even if she had asked for it. There was no specific agenda item about the coach whose contract was not renewed, either.

Those wishing to speak about an item already on the agenda, which is posted about a week in advance of each monthly meeting, must contact the board by noon Friday before the meeting.

Monday’s board meeting begins at 7 p.m. at the corporation headquarters, 110 W. North St.

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