Debate heats up over Citizen Comment rules during Huntsville School Board meetings

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - An important vote will happen Thursday night at the Huntsville City School Board meeting that has a direct impact on how parents and teachers are allowed to address the board during the meeting.

Some leaders take an exception to the fact, parents who may decide they want to address the board the night before, would already be too late, under current rules.

“Right now we have a 72-hour advanced notice requirement and it has to be related to what’s being discussed as school business," says Board President Elisa Ferrell.

District Four Board Member Walker McGinnis is introducing a measure that would change that, and allow parents to sign up to speak the night of the meeting.

This very issue became a core component of Pam Hill's campaign to get elected to the board in 2016.

“We want the money for our schools and we’re saying please renew the ad valorem tax in a few weeks, but then you’re on the board and you don’t want to hear the citizens? No way, it’s Huntsville City Schools, it’s about the students, the students belong to the parents," says Hill.

Walker McGinnis, District 1's Michelle Watkins, and Hill have already stated publicly, they will vote to approve the bylaw, but to pass, it requires four out of the five board members.

Board President Elisa Ferrell declined to say how she'd vote but says there's value to requiring a 72-hour deadline.

“It’s not that we’re trying to keep people from speaking, we’re trying to resolve their problems and their questions and issues beforehand," explains Ferrell.

Hill argues, questions can come up from the meeting itself, and the board should listen to the concern, whether or not they have an answer.

“Just because we’re afraid they might be upset or we don’t know the answer right then, all of us can say, 'I don’t know but we can help and find out how,'" Hill says.

AEA Representative Adam Keller has repeatedly sent letters to board members for over a year, asking for a change.

“I think the public’s business should be done out in the open - period," Keller says.

He says community engagement is not just about having the right answer, it's about accountability.

“We can all email board members or individual staff members but to be able to ask questions live out there in the open and in front of the public is so valuable for public transparency and makes it easier to advocate for the kind of schools our students deserve," he says.

This is the third attempt to adjust the citizen comment rules during the school board meeting, in just the last few months.

The meeting starts at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday at the Annie Mertz Center.