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Letter: West Hartford Board of Education Should Not Revise Policy 8355

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Editor and WH BOE members,

At the May 16 BOE meeting Jason Chang proposed  limiting public general comments at BOE meetings. He began  his argument by stating (see video 1:18): ” Most Board of Ed meetings do not entertain any non agenda comments…” This is false. When I spoke at Tuesday’s meeting, I listed as examples six surrounding towns that all allow public comments on non agenda comments. Mr. Chang did not acknowledge my list, but stuck to his script. The evidence below proves that these towns in our DRG allow all comments and do not relegate general comments to the end of the meeting. Examples:

  • Glastonbury: May 8,2023 meeting video minute 49:19 the chair read this statement “the board welcomes public comment on any subject that is within its jurisdiction.” Comment length 3 minutes, total 30 minutes.
  • Simsbury: May 9, 2023 at :45 meeting video chair says “As always we open up with public audience. If anyone would like to speak please step forward…” limit  3 min.
  • Farmington: May 15, 2023 meeting agenda Item VI Inviting and Receiving Public Comment – 1:52 video –  “speakers have three minutes for public comment”
  • Greenwich: Board policy 1120 “The board welcomes participation of interested individuals …. the public may address the board to express his/her opinion concerning the educational programs of the district”

Mr. Chang cannot use this as a reason. Neither can he use prioritizing agenda comments since that was accomplished with the November 2022 changes to 8355. Nor can he use “privacy of children” because parents have the right to mention their children in comments.

His argument rests  on his statement that since the BOE is a “private meeting” held in public, there is no guaranteed right to speak. For decades the board has extended the courtesy to the public to speak on any topic in its jurisdiction. While not required, comments are encouraged by the state BOE but now Jason and other majority members of the board are trying to withdraw that courtesy with no valid reason. They have the power to set the agenda and their proposed change will go further to dampen enthusiasm and deny timely comments.

I urge you to leave the policy unchanged and let all views on educational issues be aired at each and every meeting.

Thank you,
Ellen Nichols
West Hartford

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