ENCINITAS — The San Dieguito Union High School District, operating with a fully-staffed board for the first time since June, recently made changes to how the public can contribute to public debate at school board meetings.
At a Nov. 18 meeting, the first for newly-elected Trustee Julie Bronstein, the board approved new rules regarding public comment periods.
Previously, the public was allowed to sign up to comment for each individual agenda item, receiving a maximum of two minutes to speak per item. However, the board unanimously approved new rules that allow members of the public to speak on action items just once for no longer than two minutes.
Speakers will still be allowed to provide comments on non-agenda items and the meeting’s consent calendar.
“The purpose of bringing this agenda item forward was to allow for efficiency and effectiveness in running our meetings,” Superintendent Dr. Cheryl James-Ward said.
Recently, San Dieguito school district meetings have run late, including this week, which lasted more than nine hours.
However, public comments on the proposed changes were unreceptive to the idea.
“At the very least there should be an opportunity to submit written comments that board members would review prior to the meetings,” said Marina Fleming, a district parent. “The written comments should then be published so there is a public record.”
Many cities, such as Encinitas, Del Mar and others in North County, publish their written public comments on agenda items for their respective city council meetings. Trustee Michael Allman said the board has gone down the road of publishing public comments but is very much against doing it again.
“It devolved into ad hominem attacks — ugly, ugly, ugly,” Allman said.
Topics covered by the district over the past two years have been contentious among district families, teachers and board members, particularly surrounding the return to school during the pandemic and protocols surrounding COVID-19.
Additionally, Board President Mo Muir said meetings are running too long and often people who had signed up to comment on a later item do not answer when their name is called during the Zoom meeting.
“Our meetings are going long. And I’m calling these names and no one is there,” Muir said.
Moving all public comments on items closer to the beginning of the meeting will allow for the public to express their thoughts on action items without sitting through a six-hour (or longer) meeting. However, public comments on items are not the only factor in long meetings.
“Using today’s meeting as an example, public comments aren’t what resulted in this meeting being so long,” Fleming said. “If the school board members truly value public input as they continually say, then they need to put this sentiment into action.”
During the meeting, parents also expressed their feelings on a variety of topics aside from public comments, including holding virtual town halls on specific controversial issues facing the district.