Sen. Leising (the quixotic cursive crusader) has introduced SB 83 which mandates the opportunity for public comment at school board meetings. This is a reaction to the measures taken by school boards to deal with pro-COVID parents who objected to the idea of having to work with the community to limit the spread of COVID. Some members of the public not only disagreed with mask policies, they turned abusive and belligerent. When the Public Access Counselor was asked about how public bodies could comply with the Open Door Law and still get business done when civility broke down, the PAC observed that public comment was not required by the Open Door Law and eliminating the public comment period was one tool that boards could use when necessary.
[N]othing in the Indiana Open Door Law guarantees or even mentions the right to participate in the proceedings of a governing body much less interrupt…[G]overning bodies can choose whether to extend the courtesy of a comment forum, and therefore revoke it if misused. Tumult, disorder, and disturbance on the part of the audience should not be tolerated by a board, council, or commission. This office does, and will always, advocate for a meaningful public comment opportunity at public meetings, if practical. Ultimately, however, a public comment forum during a meeting is a privilege and a courtesy extended by a governing body to the public.
Sen. Leising’s bill does not have much to say about the public comment period she would require school boards to provide. Certainly, it does not give schools any tools to deal with interruption, tumult, disorder, or disturbances. This legislation could be read as a sanction for using such tactics as a means by which to influence public policy. By the same token, however, the legislation says nothing about rules the school board could use to regulate the public comment period. “You have ten seconds and comment must be germane to agenda items. Go!” Any rules on public comment used to ensure order is maintained will no doubt be decried as tyranny. But, I suppose once everything is tyranny, then nothing is tyranny.