The House Education committee moved forward a bill Tuesday that would require local school boards to hold a 15-minute public comment period at their regular monthly meetings.
House Education Committee Chair Regina Huff, a Republican, said she wrote the bill in response to parents who feel silenced by local school boards’ decisions not to hold in-person public comment.
“This is an opportunity for them to speak and to know they have that opportunity to speak, and to know the time-limit and the frame,” Huff told the committee.
The proposal comes as the Jefferson County Board of Education enters its third month without in-person public comment. The board diverted public comment to email after an October meeting boiled over into a shouting match.
The October debacle was the second time in 2021 the Jefferson County Board of Education board halted proceedings over concerns about violence. The first time was in June, when a group of mostly white parents and activists distressed by racial equity initiatives interrupted a board meeting with chants and refused to come to order.
Rep. Lisa Willner, a Louisville Democrat who formerly served on the Jefferson County Board of Education, voted in favor of the proposal, but had questions about whether it may limit the board’s ability to deal with the vitriol that has popped up at meetings over COVID-19 measures and anti-racism efforts, which some conservatives refer to as “critical race theory.”
“We saw nationwide, not just here in Kentucky, but a rise of death threats against school board members, against potential school board candidates. We saw really rowdy behavior across the country,” she said.
Huff said boards will still have the authority to shut down a meeting if it becomes dangerous and there is a risk of injury.
Rep. Attica Scott, a Louisville Democrat, voted against the proposal.
“My concern is that this is coming after the calculated right-wing attacks in Jefferson County, where people were trying to disrupt our democratic process,” Scott said.
Huff said Jefferson County Public Schools isn’t the only district where constituents are feeling left out of the conversation.
“There was other counties where parents were feeling like that they didn’t have the opportunity to speak,” Huff said. “And you know, there’s issues that are laid before us now where parents are engaged, and I think we should be excited that they’re engaged.”
Huff also said she thought allowing public comment could provide a vent for some of the “angst” that’s been building around certain issues.
Rep. Ed Massey, a Boone County Republican, gave a cautious thumbs up to measure, “for now.” The former Boone County Board of Education member said he worried the measure interfered in local control.
The bill now heads to the full House for more discussion.