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Detroit’s school board will revisit new public comment rules

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After months of complaints, the Detroit school board is planning to take a second look at a relatively new policy that requires people to register in order to speak during the public comment period of meetings.

“It is our intent to revisit it,” Iris Taylor, president of the board, said during a community meeting Thursday, when the topic was raised by residents, one of whom called the new rules an act of suppression.

In addition to requiring registration, the new policy requires the time period for registering to be cut off shortly after the meeting starts, typically after the seventh agenda item. Those who show up late often miss their opportunity to speak.

The school board approved the new policy in February, to take effect in April. Immediately, though, there were complaints.

Meanwhile, residents have long complained about a rule that existed prior to the new policy that limits public comment to two minutes per speaker. The new policy tried to address that by allowing a six-minute comment by someone representing a group of people — rather than having individual members comment.

Board member Deborah Hunter-Harvill said Thursday she would be open to extending the time for individuals to three minutes, but she said it would need support from others on the board.

One woman who spoke during the community meeting said that people are agitated about the issue “because they don’t feel heard.”

Taylor said the district didn’t intend to suppress or restrict public comment, but instead wanted to “facilitate an orderly way to have public comment.”

She said the policy committee would likely bring recommendations to the full board in November or December.

Among those pushing for a change was former board member LaMar Lemmons, who is the chief of staff to State Sen. Betty Jean Alexander. He said she is planning to introduce state legislation that will prevent public bodies from having limits such as the two-minute rule.

“Nobody does two minutes but Detroit,” Lemmons said.

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