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Two-minute warning

To the editor:

Minnesota state law requires that public school boards provide the pubic with opportunity to address the board on school-related issues at their business meetings. Our ISD 88 school board complies with the letter of the law by including a 30-minute public comment period on their monthly agenda.

The ISD 88 board has made it quite clear, however, that it does not consider the public comment period an especially important or even welcome part of their meeting. They have sent this message by arbitrarily setting a two-minute time limit on how long each member of the public may speak and seeking to enforce that limit even when the number of speakers is fewer than five.

A two-minute time limit is unreasonably short. Though that limit may at times be necessary due to a large number of speakers, under most circumstances it is not. And if the speaker has a substantive message to convey, two minutes is definitely not enough.

Spending a couple minutes on Google, you will find a number of districts that have longer limits. Here’s a sampling. Three minutes: Fridley, Waconia, Carlton, Shakopee, Northfield, Elk River, Owatonna. Four minutes: Apple Valley.

Does our local school board consider public comments a nuisance? Perhaps they would prefer that members of the public would not have opportunity to call attention to certain policies and activities that they would like to implement without public scrutiny.

In December the Journal reported on the public comments that were made at that month’s school board meeting. In the comments section beneath the online version of that report, the wife of a school board member wrote a comment, indicating a desire to take action against the views expressed by the speakers. Her words were: “Time to publicly squash this crap.” (Screen shot available.) Though it is impossible to say with certainty what was meant by that comment, one wonders whether she intended to exert influence on her husband to further suppress the public’s ability to speak at school board meetings.

Public schools are a public institution. They are not the personal fiefdom of the school board members or the school superintendent. Our school board needs to acknowledge that fact, and let that acknowledgment be reflected in setting a policy that projects a more welcoming attitude toward public comment.

Michael Thom

New Ulm

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