Ever changing Comment


On May 5th, the School Board discussed their reasoning for the changes made to public comment over the course of this past year. To my knowledge, this was the first time each board member has publicly expressed their opinion on the subject, and it was fascinating! For eight months the board has been silent on this issue, and resident concerns have gone unaddressed publicly.

School Board Member, Eric Tessmer brought up questions for discussion around public comment at the workshop, and I GENUINELY APPRECIATED IT! I appreciated him for asking the question, and I appreciated each board member for explaining their perspective! It demonstrated HONESTY about the process, RESPECT for resident concerns, WELCOMING feelings of involvement, and HUMANITY in our leadership.

Despite their conversation being public information, it was only heard by those who attended the workshop (four on this day). I am sharing my video so you too can benefit from hearing the explanation. Trust me, the irony of the situation is not lost on me. I find it quite humorous taking amateur video of them discussing their reasoning for removing official video. I also had to laugh as I was specifically called out by one board member for airing your public comments on my website. I told her after the workshop, “If you would record public comment, then I wouldn’t have to.” It’s the truth. Their overhead video system was designed to do that.

SoWashCo Workshop

May 5th, 2022

The conversation began after Superintendent Nielsen presented the change to Policy 206, Public Participation in School Board Meetings. At that time, VI. PROCEDURE was to be moved to a procedural document whereby “PUBLIC COMMENT” became “COMMENT TO THE BOARD”. After discussion, Sharon Van Leer recommended to take it to their Strategic Planning meeting May 12th. I could not attend that meeting. Currently the agenda for May 19th includes changes to Policy 206 as an action item, however it appears the procedural document will be voted on at a later (unknown) date.

SoWashCo School Board Workshop, May 5th 2022

Eric Tessmer

Eric asks about the policy 206 Procedure change,”Is the reason why it was changed from ‘Public Comment’ to ‘Comments to the Board’ … to solidify the next section where it says we are not going to live stream the comments because these are comments for the board, not for the public? What is the purpose of changing the wording?” (Tessmer)

Katie Schwartz

“We wanted to avoid it becoming what you would see in other boards, where it was people coming forward and basically trying to get on YouTube, trying to get on TikTok, trying to get on her channel that she is taping us right now” she said as she motioned at me in the audience. “That is what we wanted to avoid. It is not a show boating. It is to come to the board, tell us how you feel about what we are going to be talking about, and then let us take those comments in and vote how we wanted to vote. By not streaming it publicly … they are there because they want to address the board. They are not there to push their agenda …”

“We’re not saying only the people that show up get to stand up on their soap box and speak.”

Katie goes on to say that by not airing the comments of those people in attendance, the board is not airing just that one side. Katie repeats this sentiment several times, that she wants to accurately represent one SIDE equal to the other SIDE. I’m curious what “SIDE” Katie is talking about though. She states only those against masks and then the closure of Newport showed up to speak at meetings. The other SIDE, she said, stayed home and wrote emails. But is this true? Are those who “showed up” to speak against masks AND the closure of Newport the same people? Can these two groups really be labeled the same SIDE, as Katie says?

my thoughts …

I think the reality of the situation is that anyone in opposition to the school board’s decision will be deemed a “SIDE”, and a hostile one at that. Those who “show up” typically do so because they have a grievance to air with the board. Is it fair that they are not only unrepresented by their school board in the way it votes, but they are also unable to represent their issue on camera at a school board meeting?

By passing restricted Public Comment policy, the school board has been protecting their “friendly” supporters while silencing their opposition.

Melinda Dols

“I just want to make sure and remind everyone … that there’s many other avenues that people can make comments to the board, not just those few people that speak that night. We all have emails, phone numbers, so … that’s the same thing as a comment to the board, and sometimes you get a more personable way to address the board that way than you do speaking.” (Dols)

my thoughts …

In my experience, two or three of the seven board members consistently reply to email and phone calls in a timely fashion. They address each complaint individually, as it comes in, on a one-on-one basis. They have the distinct privilege (and burden) of being the sounding board to public opinion. They probably know the pulse of their community better than most anyone.

Where does that leave the lone individual? It leaves them in the dark, left to wonder “Am I the only one?”

The difference in ONE versus ALL

Sometimes parents feel like this is intentional and that the school district prefers to keep us in the dark, separate and unconnected to the pulse of our child’s school. To understand how we come to this conclusion, simply attend a SoWashCo meeting where you will be reprimanded by certain board members. A demanded level of trust prevails in repeating pattern. Look at the evolution of public comment policy, and you will begin to see … The restrictions placed on parents can be likened to a hierarchy of dominance within a family unit, except in this case the adult is disciplined as the child.

Simi Patnaik

“Parents can consent to providing identifiable information about their kids. They are the only people that can consent to do that, and I am presuming that this child also consented to her dad coming to do this, but just because she consents now, as a high school student, doesn’t mean she wants that information about her on YouTube in perpetuity.” (Patnaik)

Simi, If only we could have the same conversation about gender and life.

Eric repeats several times, the importance of transparency. “As you’re watching (as a viewer at home, as a person who is interested in school board business) when it gets blocked out, I don’t think it’s a great look. And when we talk about the importance of transparency, that doesn’t look transparent, in general.”

Patricia Driscoll

“I read my emails. I think everyone here reads their emails. We get hundreds of one way, and then the people that show up that have problems with it, that’s the minority really.” (Driscoll)

my thoughts …

To Melinda, Pat and Katie,

As parents, we have one of several options when addressing our concern. We can address it with the teacher, the principal, the school board, or all of the above. We can do this by writing a letter, calling on the phone or speaking publicly at a school board meeting.

Typically, when the public addresses you (the board) it is their final step, and it is done at a time after all other forms of communication have failed to reach their mark.

Louise Hinz

“… to look at some of the things that … get shown up on the news on other school boards where things get very elevated and it becomes sides actually attacking each other. I think to publicize that is very scary to me as well that that becomes to make it look like this room is a fighting ground. For those reasons I like the fact that it is not publicized.” (Hinz)

Eric says,”I think there is an opportunity that is being lost to some extent for the public or those parent and those taxpayers or whoever is interested in school board business, and that is to have an understanding of what other people in the school district, in the community, parents, etc … what they’re concerned about, because I think a lot of the times people are at home maybe with some concerns about the school district … and having an understanding that there is somebody else who has the same concern as mine is something that we shouldn’t … deprive them of.” (Tessmer)

Sharon Van Leer

“I think the attempt was not having such a hostile meeting and people getting aggravated to a point where no body’s listening, and that doesn’t accomplish one thing. So maybe we will look into that at our strategic plan, look into going back to having conversations with individuals that want to come and then we can respond … We’ll continue this conversation. It’s not over. Thank you, Eric, for bringing that up. ” (Van Leer)

And thank you, Sharon, for leading a very constructive conversation about public comment.

What do YOU think, reader?

Sometimes I wonder if the board understands that each individual person is a piece of the whole. In the same way as a puzzle piece is to it’s complete puzzle, so is an individual to it’s community. We all appreciate knowing how we fit into the puzzle, and that is only possible if the district shares their knowledge with us. However, when they treat competent adults like children, there will be discord between us. When parents are left in the dark while our school board collects and hides the information, this is, has and will result in a heightened level of skepticism.

Hiding the ball, moving the ball, and re-naming the ball is a game parents don’t care to play with their school district. Let’s get down to business, stop playing games, and concentrate on respect, transparency and the education of our youth.

By JAiME for SCHOOLS May 18th, 2022

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