Falmouth School Board enacts new public comment, computer rules

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FALMOUTH — Speakers at School Board meetings are now prohibited from discussing school employees and must limit their comments to three minutes.

The School Board unanimously approved a new public comment policy Tuesday night, and amended a policy governing use of employee computers.

Besides the ban on comments about School Department employees, the revised public comment policy prohibits “vulgar, profane, obscene, threatening, or disruptive” statements; provides speakers no more than three minutes to speak unless an extension is granted, and prohibits “spontaneous comments from the audience.”

The change is an attempt to corral speakers who engage in what board members believe is disruptive and abusive speech. The new policy requires speakers to comply or risk being told to leave the meeting.

It also prohibits employees from discussing matters for which other, more appropriate forums are provided, such as the grievance procedures in the teachers’ union contract.

The new policy also allows the chairman or chairwoman to interrupt and cut off speakers whose comments are “outside the purpose and scope of this policy.”

Discussion of the policy was brief during the meeting, where two technical amendments also passed unanimously. One member of the public commented on the policy change, suggesting that the time allowed to speakers be extended from three minutes to five. 

In addition to the public participation policy, the board unanimously approved a new employee computer and Internet use policy that specifically prohibits advocacy of non-school sponsored organizations and political or religious views.

This comes after elementary school Principal Karen Boffa sent emails to teachers and other school staff advocating for what she called “school-friendly” candidates in the local June election. 

The policy also prohibits using the school’s computers to raise funds for non-school related groups; to promote businesses, sell articles or services, and to solicit membership into any non-school-sponsored organizations.

Violators will be subject to “disciplinary action, up to and including termination.”

Before this change, the policy did not include specific prohibitions on political advocacy, requiring only that employees refrain from using school computers to “proselytize, advocate or communicate the views of an individual or non-school-sponsored organization.”

There was only brief discussion of the policy change, which passed unanimously.

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or eparkhurst@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @emilyparkhurst.

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