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OVN Editorial: Public must be allowed to write public comments to school board

8 25 21 OUSDOjai Valley News editorial response to OUSD Wednesday, Aug. 25, agenda item 5.4.3, regarding public comments.

The school board will consider three questions:

1. “If an option for public comment to be submitted in writing in advance of the meeting should continue to be allowed?”

2. If so, should those comments be sent to Board members, and members of the public who request them, in advance of the meeting?

3. Should public comments submitted in advance of a meeting be read aloud at the meeting?”

Government Code 54957.5,  and OUSD Board Bylaw 9322 require that any member of the public who requests them can view communications to the school board when trustees receive them; so, the question is whether trustees should be able to view public comments prior to school board meetings. 

Trustees already are able to review public comments in advance of board meetings since they made the request at a previous board meeting.

Trustees want to be as informed as possible about their constituents' concerns; they do not want to be surprised by questions/comments that have been provided to OUSD administration, but not to them. Therefore, it is incumbent upon trustees to be able to read public comments at least by the time they receive their agendas. 

The Ojai Valley News is concerned that Question No. 2 is being posed again as a means of bypassing the public's ability to also view public written comments when the board receives them, as is required by the Brown Act and OUSD bylaw. 

OUSD officials have erroneously stated in writing to the OVN that written public comments have not been accepted at school board meetings prior to COVID-19. That is not accurate, as the Ojai Valley News, other media outlets and the public can attest, having attended OUSD school board meetings where written comments have long been allowed (for obvious reasons, such as accommodating schedules, driving ability, disability, child-care issues, or providing extensive information that cannot be communicated in three minutes or in 450 words). Receiving public written comments is a regular, accepted practice of elected bodies.

And, of course, whether the board meets in-person or not, COVID-19 continues to be a Public Health threat, especially for older and immunocompromised people. Limiting public comment to those who can physically attend a meeting (often waiting for hours for an agenda item) would disallow comments from them.

According to Perry Education. Ass’n v. Perry Local Educators Ass’n, 460 U.S. 37, 45 (1983): public bodies “must allow ample alternative channels of communication.” We interpret that to include written communications.

The school board must protect the public's right to address issues affecting children and the entire community, free of unnecessary barriers.

For now, the public may submit a written public comment on the OUSD electronic comment form prior to 4 p.m. on the day of the meeting at:

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1CCfKeZXXuRb167DjQXSDjggyD9OS3u9wFDiOcg1ESec/viewform?edit_requested=true

To view more information about tonight’s OUSD school board meeting, click HERE.

Tell the school board what you think about this agenda item, in writing today, before 4 p.m. or in person near the end of the estimated four-hour meeting at the OUSD board room, 414 E. Ojai Ave., Ojai.

Public comments can be made in person during the meeting in the Board Room at 414 E. Ojai Avenue. Due to COVID-19 safety protocols, the number of individuals in the Board Room may be limited and masks will be required indoors at all times. The Board may elect to limit public comments to 30 minutes.

The agenda can be viewed at:
https://core-docs.s3.amazonaws.com/documents/asset/uploaded_file/1490309/August_25__2021_Agenda.pdf

The meeting is livestreamed via District YoutubeVideo: https://www.youtube.com/user/adminojaiusdorg
and
via district Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ojaiusd.org

Written public comments will not be read aloud at the meeting.

 

 

 

 

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