The Forsyth County Board of Education introduced a new proposed policy for its public participation at a regular meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 16, to align with state legislation.
Jennifer Caracciolo, chief communications officer for the school district, presented the Rules of Conduct policy to the board, explaining that Senate Bill 588 now requires all local school boards in the state to approve public participation rules and regulations annually.
This year, school boards are required to enact a Rules of Conduct policy by Oct. 1, outlining that members of the public can be removed from a board meeting “for an actual disruption of the proceedings,” Caracciolo said.
But it could take multiple policy violations for the board to decide not to allow an individual into a public meeting.
The proposed policy, now available to view on the district’s website, details 10 different rules that those speaking to the board during a meeting must follow. Many of the rules were taken from the board’s current policy, but with a few additions.
One addition says that while participants are given three minutes to speak, the board could limit the total time available for public participation and individual comments “for the purpose of the efficient operation of the business of the meeting.”
The board’s current policy also states that speakers should keep remarks to the board “civil” while avoiding “obscene” or “profane” language — a rule often cited during meetings earlier this year as speakers tried to read inappropriate material from library books to the board.
The proposed policy changes this rule slightly, adding that “loud and boisterous conduct or comments” by speakers or the crowd would not be allowed.
The rules state that individuals who violate the proposed policy will be given a warning by the board chair before being asked to sit down.
“If any person attending a meeting refuses to follow these rules disrupting the meeting, they will be asked to leave and if they refuse, be escorted from the meeting room,” the draft states. “Such serious or repeated violations of the rules of conduct may result in the individual being prohibited from speaking during a board meeting for an appropriate period of time.”
Board Chairman Wes McCall asked community members to leave a regular meeting earlier this year after a speaker broke board policy by reading an explicit excerpt from a school media center book out loud, according to the previous reporting by the Forsyth County News.
McCall attempted to stop her from reading the excerpt, but she continued, yelling over him. It also prompted yelling from the crowd, many of whom were upset by the board’s response to their concerns around the media centers’ book collections.
He asked the crowd to leave the meeting room, and the board invited the remaining speakers to come back one by one to finish the comments to the board.
Board members sent a letter to the speaker who violated the policy, informing her that she would not be allowed back into a meeting until she stated in writing that she would follow public participation rules.
The speaker recently filed a federal lawsuit against the board and Forsyth County Schools along with another parent and Mama Bears of Forsyth County, alleging that the public participation policy violates their First Amendment rights.
The current rules cited in the lawsuit were not changed in the policy proposed Tuesday.
“As is true with any policy that is driven by a legislative decision …. this is written by our board attorney in consultation with the Georgia School Boards Association, so this will be a very standard policy you will see throughout the entire state,” Superintendent Dr. Jeff Bearden said. “I think you’ll see a lot of uniformity around that.”
The proposed rules of conduct and public participation procedures are currently available for residents to review on the district’s website at www.forsyth.k12.ga.us.
Caracciolo said it will remain on the website for the next month for public feedback before the board votes in September.