ANOTHER VIEWPOINT: Public meetings should include public’s comments

This editorial was originally published May 15 on KPC News. 

Dozens of parents who attended a recent West Noble School Board meeting to air grievances about the loss of a dual-language program at the school left without having their thoughts heard.

Out of about 50 people who showed up, two were allowed to speak briefly.

As a way to suppress public comment, Superintendent Galen Mast said Monday and has said before that the school board is only a “meeting in public.”

We disagree and are dismayed by West Noble’s recent efforts to stymie public comment at its meetings.

If the public isn’t allowed to show up to raise issues, whatever those might be, at the monthly public meeting of the school board — the board that technically runs the school district — when else are they going to be heard?

Hours-long school board meetings have occurred in Fort Wayne recently as dozens of residents have lined up to demand mask requirements be repealed or to argue that they should be kept in place.

Northwest Allen County Schools also recently heard multiple comments from residents who were seeking the resignation of their board president after he made an off-color comparison between mask usage and the LGBT community.

East Noble heard from dozens of residents for multiple meetings during the time when they were discussing the demolition of the old East Noble Middle School.

Counties, cities and towns have public comment as part of their agendas every meeting, even if no one usually shows up to talk.

Local government boards are within their rights to set some parameters on public comments.

They can put a time limit on their speaking time. They can ask people to elect a spokesperson if many people show up to express similar opinions. They can even set up a separate, special public forum specifically for the purpose of taking comment on a particular issue.

But people shouldn’t be corralled to private appointments outside the meeting or shut out altogether.

It’s a public meeting, as defined by state law. Let the public speak.

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