The Prince William County School Board will consider a slew of changes to its public comment policy at its next meeting Sept. 1, including requiring advance sign-up for speakers, requiring that their comments be “directly” related to school policy or operations, and banning signs unless they’re part of a division-approved student presentation.
According to the agenda item submitted by Division Counsel Mary McGowan, the changes were requested by one or more members of the school board and will be discussed at the next board meeting. The amendments will then be brought for a vote at the following board meeting Sept. 15. School Board Chair Babur Lateef could not be reached for comment.
As part of the new changes, the citizen comment period for regular board meetings would be limited to one hour, “with the first half hour reserved for comments on agenda items only, and the second half hour for comments on agenda items or other topics germane to the operations and policies of PWCS.” In both forums, speakers would be limited to two minutes of time, and will be required to sign up to comment online or over the phone by noon the day of the board meeting. Given the hour limit, the list will be limited to a total of 30 speakers. Only if fewer than 30 speakers signed up in advance will there be the ability to do so at the board meeting.
“While the School Board welcomes and encourages comments from the public on matters relating to PWCS, and particularly values public input on agenda items, the Board must follow reasonable time, place and manner restrictions on public comment in order to conduct its business in a timely and orderly fashion,” the amended policy would read.
If some topics demand more input than what is allowed in person at the meeting, the new policy would encourage that the public give that input through written, videotaped or e-mailed comment.
At times last year, board members said that certain public comments were straying from the policies being considered, drawing objections from speakers. During one meeting in which the board considered and ultimately approved a new “equity statement,” Lateef threatened to remove certain members of the public from the meeting room for being disruptive.
The proposed changes come after nearby Loudoun County’s school board meetings became mired in arguments and protests over “critical race theory” and the rights of transgender students toward the end of the school year. At one meeting, multiple people were arrested and the board cleared the room. In response, Loudoun’s board implemented a number of rule changes for future meetings. For the most part, Prince William board meetings avoided anything similar.
At multiple points in the amended language, the potential policy changes “confine speakers to topics directly related to the general operations of policies” of the division with the word “directly” being added seven times to the text of the policy.