Weakley County School Board Addresses Public Comment, Clear Backpacks and Dress Code Concerns for Upcoming Meeting

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MVP Regional Senior Investigative Reporter

Shannon Taylor

The Weakley County School Board sent out their agenda today for this Thursday’s board meeting. There was some confusion on the “public comment” section where the State of Tennessee passed a law July 1 this year requiring it be on Government agendas.

If you look at the agenda it states “public hearing” but according to Board Member Joshua Moore, “We intended the term “public hearing” to include the availability for public comment.  We apologize for the confusion.  We are still developing the actual policy.  The wording in the agenda is provisional until the full policy is in place.  We have been working with the county mayor and commission on the provisional wording and on the timing for written requests for public comment.  The actual policy will be presented at the September board meeting for a first reading.   If anyone wishes to make a public comment, we welcome them to complete the form available and submit to the School Board by tomorrow at 5pm.  They can contact the central office today and tomorrow to get access to that form to submit for requesting public comment.  That form will be posted on the school board website soon.  If anyone submits the request for a particular line of business, the board will recognize that individual during the time that line of business is under consideration and discussion.”

The new law went into effect July 1 and states, ” A governing body shall, for each public meeting, reserve a period for public comment to provide the public with the opportunity to comment on matters that are germane to the items on the agenda for the meeting.
(b) The governing body may put reasonable restrictions on the period for public comment, such as the length of the period, the number of speakers, and the length of time that each speaker will be allowed to provide comment. The governing body may require a person to give notice in advance of the desire to offer comments at a meeting. The governing body shall take all practicable steps to ensure that opposing viewpoints are represented fairly, if any.
(c) A notice for a public meeting shall indicate the manner in which a person may indicate the person’s desire to provide public comment at the meeting.
(d) This section does not apply to:
(1) A meeting of a governing body, or a portion thereof, where the governing body is conducting a disciplinary hearing for a member of the governing body or a person whose profession or activities fall within the jurisdiction of the governing body; or
(2) A meeting for which there are no actionable items on the agenda.”

Deborah Fischer of TCOG (Tennessee Coalition for Open Government) stated, “In statute, there are times when a governing body is required to have a “public hearing.” But the new law is not about a “public hearing.” It instead requires that a governing body “reserve a period for public comment.” These are different things and different terminology though they may feel like the same thing because they both involve members of the public giving comments. However, the public comments required at each meeting are governed very specifically by the new statute.”

Fischer further stated, “In my view, the school board’s paragraph saying that “In the event there is an item of business which requires a public hearing” may make the public wonder whether or not they can comment on each piece of business. In fact, all items on the agenda may be commented upon by the public during a public comment period. Their paragraph needs to say that public comment will be allowed on all items on the agenda except for any disciplinary hearings and workshops with no actionable items on the agenda.”

Regarding citizens’ concerns over the clear backpacks Moore stated, “this will be an introductory session of discussion.  I would be shocked if we had any actionable motion on this line of business during the August 2023 Board Meeting.  If there were any motion approved concerning this issue, the board of education would provide parents with months of lead time and could also consider financial assistance in making this transition.  These are just a couple of the issues that might be discussed on Thursday and is a main reason why a quick motion and action on this most likely will not take place. Expect discussion only and not a motion nor immediate action and implementation.”    

Regarding citizens’ concerns over the recent changes to wearing solid color t-shirts Moore said, “there is no line of business on the agenda to discuss changes to the dress code.  There are no changes to the dress code being contemplated at this time.  We recommend parents to review the dress code policy and contact us if there are any questions or concerns.”

The board meeting is Thursday, Aug 3 at 5:00 p.m. at the Board of Education in Dresden.

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