Hamilton County School Board Adjusts Policies So More Parents Can Speak At Meetings

Photo Credit: Hamilton County Schools / YouTube

In sharp contrast to the Rutherford County School board which recently voted to place limits on speakers at school board meetings, the Hamilton County school board is making arrangements to allow more speakers the chance to address the school board.

During the HCS Agenda Session on October 18th, the school board discussed how they could change policy to allow more parents to speak during meetings while still allowing time to address all business laid out in their agendas.

The first change they looked at as a possibility was to allow any and all speakers to address the board at the Monday meetings but not allow speakers at the Thursday business meetings.

However, District  6 School Board Member Jenny Hill asked, “Do we want to add a second set of public comments on agenda meeting day and if so, do we want to make Thursdays only apply to the agenda topics?”

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“We need to hear from everybody.  A couple of months ago, I suggested that we go from five minutes to three minutes (per speaker) and I got blown up, a lot of criticism.  But it wasn’t because I don’t want to hear from people, it’s because I do want to hear from people, tons of people and I want everyone to have a chance,” District 3 School Board Member Joe Smith said.

Smith stated that with their current format, the board meetings are not set up to allow for everyone to be able to speak.

Referring to the review done by Hamilton County parents and Moms for Liberty of HCS curriculum, Smith said, “A few weeks ago, we got some information on stuff that’s in libraries that I had no idea that it was there had we not heard from some parents that are engaged.”

Smith stated that he “likes” the idea of people being able to speak on Monday nights and then limiting the speakers on Thursday nights to those who wish to speak on the agenda items the board is preparing to act on.

Smith suggested that if they couldn’t make the changes he mentioned that the board might “carve out maybe one night a month or one night every two month or something to meet in a stadium somewhere.  We’re living in a day where we want parents to get involved and we’re living in a day where we need them to be involved.”

“We need to figure out some kind of way to hear from as many as we can without making us neglect the other business that we have to act on,” Smith said.

Smith also stated that parents have voiced to him that they come to school board meetings looking to engage but find the meeting room too limited in space for them to get in.

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District 1 School Board Member Rhonda Thurman suggested rearranging the room to allow for more people to be in attendance acknowledging the distance that has to be maintained due to current COVID protocols.

District 8 School Board Member and Chairman Tucker McClendon expressed that they may be overcomplicating the issue, stating that “On Thursday, we basically keep it the same except anything you’re speaking on needs to be on the agenda and then on Mondays, probably do a sign up 30 minutes before the meeting, we don’t limit the amount of people. We go through our agenda session…if we have five people show up, we have five.  If we have 20 we have 20.  I’m indifferent on the 3 to 5 minutes.  That’s the pleasure of the board. This is probably a simple fix to make it more open and accessible to the public.”

Hill stated, “So, it sounds like we’ve got a plan… with one final exception.  Joe (Smith) and I would both like to see it be switched to three minutes (per speaker) and more people… If we were to make that three minutes, everybody gets to hear more people whether there’s a limit to the number of speakers or not. ”  

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About the Author: Jason Vaughn, Media Coordinator for The Tennessee Conservative  ~ Jason previously worked for a legacy publishing company based in Crossville, TN in a variety of roles through his career.  Most recently, he served as Deputy Directory for their flagship publication. Prior, he was a freelance journalist writing articles that appeared in the Herald Citizen, the Crossville Chronicle and The Oracle among others.  He graduated from Tennessee Technological University with a Bachelor’s in English-Journalism, with minors in Broadcast Journalism and History.  Contact Jason at news@TennesseeConservativeNews.com

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