Growing criticism of a controversial public comments policy has prompted the Johnston County School Board to change the requirements placed on speakers addressing the board during open meetings.
The school system hasn’t changed their ‘Public Address to the Board Policy’ since February 2009. Previously, individuals wanting to address the school board had to sign up at least two days in advance and also provide a written copy of their speech, which was limited to 5 minutes.
In May 2019, Reginald Holley wanted to address the school board but wasn’t allowed to, in part because he had revised his speech after submitting the written version. That same month, the Johnstonian News published an editorial critical of the school board likening their policy to a violation of the First Amendment. “Content-based restrictions on citizen speech during a public board meeting violate the First Amendment’s free speech clause….Johnston County parents and community members deserve better than censorship.”
Under the changes that were approved this month, individuals can sign up immediately prior to the beginning of regularly scheduled board meetings. Comments will still be limited to 3 minutes and must be related to matters of the school system.
The board said they cannot address concerns about individual students and staff members in open session due to personnel and privacy laws. The board still wants citizens who have complaints about school employees to speak with the principal at the school or file a grievance.
The policy revision, which takes effect immediately, still requires speakers to furnish a statement or provide a topic they’ll be discussing when they sign up. They just no longer have to do so 48 hours in advance. Obscene or threatening language will not be allowed. The policy still states that persons who interrupt or disrupt the meetings may be directed to leave by the Board chair.