The proposed policy changes would limit the second public comment period to half an hour. Speakers who have addressed the board twice in a row would be prohibited from doing so again for two months. The board chairperson would be allowed to limit the number of times a person can speak about the same topic and the number of people who can speak for or against a specific issue.
“Feedback from our constituents is very important,” said Jorge Gomez, executive director of administration and policy, when he presented the proposed changes last month to the school board. “As important as public input is, it is also important that you run an effective, orderly meeting.”
Gomez told the school board he based his recommendations on the practices of other large school districts around the country, including Cobb County and Atlanta Public Schools.
The Cobb school board limits public comment to 30 minutes at each work session and regular meeting. APS limits public comment to an hour during monthly business meetings and reserves the right to limit repetitive comments.
Craig Lownes, the father of Gwinnett alumni and a frequent speaker before board meetings became popular, asked the board to increase the proposed comment time limit to 90 minutes during business meetings. He suggested adding a second 90-minute monthly meeting for the sole purpose of hearing more speakers.
“I’m amazed that this issue is being rushed to the table,” Lownes said. “It appears that it is a reaction to the number of people who decided that their voices need to be heard and the length of the meetings. It is good that so many people are passionate about the importance of the school system.”
Marlyn Tillman, executive director of the Gwinnett Parent Coalition to Dismantle the School to Prison Pipeline, submitted feedback asking the board to extend the proposed time limit to two hours.
“The proposed policy is effectively eliminating meaningful public participation,” she said. “It is egregious.”
During the recent work session, board members Tarece Johnson and Karen Watkins asked Gomez how to include residents who don’t speak English or have time to attend meetings or access to stream them online.
Chairman Everton Blair Jr. later told the AJC he’d like the board’s processes to ensure feedback “from a diverse, expanded group.”
“We should clarify the additional ways that constituents and community members can engage with us directly,” Blair said.
The board recently voted to table the proposed changes for review and public feedback until the March 18 meeting. Those who wish to comment on the proposal can email Gomez or MySchoolBoard@gcpsk12.org.