Despite concerns from citizens, the South-Western City School Board of Education has adopted a new public participation policy.
The policy change was finalized at the Dec. 8 regular board meeting.
Resident Rob Starrett compared the new measure to communism and said it imposes on freedom of speech.
The policy allows residents to address the board at the start of the public meetings if the item to be discussed is on the agenda. If the issue is a non-agenda item, the person wishing to speak must call the superintendent’s office by 4 p.m. the Thursday prior to the meeting. Those individuals would then be allowed to speak at the end of the meeting.
Board President Cathy Johnson said it is not the board’s intent to limit public participation. It would give the board a chance to review and solve the issues in a timely manner.
"This truly is to help the public," said Johnson. "We think this will work and will work well for this district."
She added, "It is not our intent to ever squelch the public."
Some say that is exactly what the board is doing.
Resident Terry Jones said the policy change is designed to keep the public voice out. He believes that since the school district is funded by public tax dollars, the public has the right to speak about whatever they wish without phoning ahead first.
"This violates public trust," said Jones.
Resident Rick Redfern, of Grove City, also expressed concern over the policy.
"You are mere custodians," he told the board. "This is going to be a bad plan."
Randy Reisling was the only board member to vote against the policy change.
"I feel we are limiting the board’s chance to hear the public," said Reisling.
Reisling said the board should be open and let citizens speak without the Thursday deadline.
Superintendent Dr. Bill Wise said the policy would give administrators time to prepare and address the issue. He believes many of the problems would be solved before the Monday meeting, but the citizens could still address the board in public.
Johnson said a school district in Wilmington, Ohio has a similar policy. She also mentioned that she did look into policies in central Ohio.
The board members said they would be lenient with the new rules at first to give residents time to adjust.
Board member Amy Baker said, "If it doesn’t work, we can always change it."