The House Education Committee advanced a bill on 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 drafted the bill in response to parents who felt silenced by local school board decisions not to organize public comments in person.
“It’s an opportunity for them to speak and to know that they have this opportunity to speak, and to know the time frame and the framework,” Huff told the committee.
The proposal comes as the Jefferson County Board of Education enters its third month without public comment in person. The council diverted public comments to an email after an october meeting turned into a shouting match.
The October debacle was the second time in 2021 that the Jefferson County School 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 Democrat from Louisville who previously served on the Jefferson County Board of Education, voted in favor of the proposal but wondered if it might limit the board’s ability to deal with the vitriol that arose in meetings over COVID -19 anti-racism measures and efforts, which some conservatives call “critical race theory“.
“We have seen across the country, not just here in Kentucky, but an increase in death threats against school board members, against potential school board candidates. We’ve seen some really rowdy behavior across the country,” she said.
Huff said boards will always have the power to end a meeting if it becomes unsafe and there is a risk of injury.
Representative Attica Scott, a Democrat from Louisville, voted against the proposal.
“My concern is that this comes after the calculated attacks from the right 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 voters feel left out of the conversation.
“There were other counties where parents felt like they didn’t have the opportunity to speak,” Huff said. “And you know, there are issues that we’re facing now where parents are engaged, and I think we should be thrilled that they’re engaged.”
Huff also said she thinks allowing public comment could provide a vent to some of the “angst” that has built up around certain issues.
Rep. Ed Massey, a Boone County Republican, gave a cautious nudge to measure, “for now.” The former Boone County School Board member said he was concerned the measure would interfere with local control.
The bill now heads to the full House for further discussion.