The Lafayette Parish School Board may eliminate a general public comment period at the end of its meetings.
For years, the board has allowed the public to address it about any school-related issue, whether it pertained to a vote taken during the meeting or something that was not on the agenda. However, under proposed policy changes, those comments would no longer be allowed.
Members of the public would be able to speak at meetings about items that are on the agenda and up for a final vote at that meeting. Those comments must last no longer than three minutes. The proposed policy eliminates language that allows the board president to let the comments run longer, depending on the number of speakers.
The proposal also eliminates language stating that the board “shall delay its deliberations on each agenda item until all members of the public who wish to address the School Board have been given an opportunity to speak.”
Board President Tommy Angelle said the change is being made based on guidance from the board’s legal counsel, the Hammonds, Sills, Adkins and Guice law firm.
“Comments will be taken relative to an agenda item before a vote is taken,” Angelle said.
Louisiana Revised Statute 42:15 outlines legal requirements for public comment at school board meetings. Boards must allow public comment “at any meeting of the school board prior to taking any vote. The comment period shall be for each agenda item and shall precede each agenda item.”
There is no requirement in the law for a general comment period.
According to the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office, the state’s open meetings law requires school board to allow public comment before the board takes action. The same law applies to all other public bodies, such as councils and police juries.
“The public body may, however, adopt ‘reasonable rules’ to restrict public comment,” the AG’s office said on its website. “Many public bodies have adopted rules that place a time limit on comments and require that comments must relate to items on the agenda for that specific meeting.”
Nancy Mounce, a retired educator and former member of the Lafayette City Council, said she disagrees with the proposed changes. Mounce also is a member of The Daily Advertiser editorial board.
“Limiting public comment at school board meetings at a time when parents, teachers and taxpayers face significant issues like rezoning students and a potential tax election may make the board meetings shorter, but it is simply a bad idea for the community,” Mounce said via email. “Lafayette Consolidated Government encourages public comment at one of their meetings each month. It will be a shame if the LPSB votes Wednesday to eliminate public comment at the end of meetings.”
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The Lafayette Parish School Board meets at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at the central office, 113 Chaplin Drive.