The Knox County school board is once again considering requiring members of the public to sign up at least a day in advance to speak during public forum at board meetings. The board considered and decided against a similar change a few years ago.
Currently, those who wish to speak at Board of Education meetings can either call the board's office by 4 p.m. the business day before a meeting, or just sign up in person with the board vice chair before the meeting starts. The proposed change to the policy would eliminate the in-person option.
During a board policy review meeting last month, concerns were raised about the potential security risks of a large crowd around the board table before a meeting starts. The board moved last year into a new boardroom in the Summer Place complex, which is long and narrow and can create a logjam of people trying to sign up to speak or to chat with board members before meetings.
At Monday's board work session, board member Jennifer Owen said she didn't think the deadline gave most people enough time to read the agenda for upcoming meetings and then sign up to speak about items on it.
The board holds a work session on the first Monday of each month followed by a voting meeting on the first Thursday. The agendas are typically posted online the Wednesday before. (This month's weren't posted until last Thursday.) To sign up by phone to speak at the Monday meeting, people would need to call by 4 p.m. the prior Friday.
"By the time they see it, it's too late for them to call and sign up," Owen said. "When they can sign up before the meeting, that's plenty of time."
Other board members were silent on the topic. But during Monday's public forum, local education advocate Lance McCold — who often speaks at board meetings — noted that he hadn't found out about the proposed policy change until after 4 p.m. Friday.
"If the policy were in effect today, I wouldn't be able to speak to you," he said, adding, "There's just too little time for the community to be informed about what's on the agenda."
The school board is already more restrictive than Knox County Commission or Knoxville City Council, allowing public forum speakers three minutes at the lectern rather than five like the other bodies.
The board will vote on the proposed policy change at its meeting at 5 p.m. Thursday. If you want speak about that or any other issue, you can call the board office at 865-594-1623 before 4 p.m. Wednesday, or — for now — sign up at the meeting.