Letter: New public comment rules are appalling

To the Editor:

Last week I attended the first meeting of the newly-elected Board of Education, composed of five Republicans and two Democrats and with Deborah Herbst as its new chair. The Board’s very first order of business was to impose limits on public comments at its meetings. I have been attending Board of Education meetings for almost 15 years, and there have never been any limitations on public speaking. Here are the new rules, and why they are a terrible idea.

Speakers must sign in at the podium, and when it is their turn, are limited to two minutes. In many cases, two minutes simply is not long enough to make a point, let alone give enough information to make the comments meaningful. At other town board and commission meetings where time limitations have been imposed, they have never been shorter than three minutes. Public comments at past Board of Education meetings have rarely taken up an undue amount of the board’s time. Limiting speakers to two minutes gives the impression that the board does not really want to hear from the public.

Additionally, during the speaker’s comments, Chairman Herbst keeps a close eye on the timer, and gives the speaker a five-second warning. This is not only nerve-wracking for the speaker, but it gives the impression that the board members’ time is more important than what the speaker has to say.

Finally, speaking at board meetings is now limited to Trumbull residents unless requested by the superintendent. Therefore, teachers who live out of town are not permitted to speak. Parents of students who live outside Trumbull also cannot speak at board meetings. Many students from other towns attend the Agriscience school or, through Project Choice, other Trumbull schools. Are those parents really prohibited from addressing the board? And why does the board not want to hear from teachers?

These new rules are appalling and send a terrible message to Trumbull parents and teachers. They should be rescinded immediately.

Cindy Katske