| By Jason C. Mattox
New rules for those wishing to be heard at meetings of the North Panola School District Board of Trustees were proposed last Monday night.
Three policies proposed to the board by Mississippi School Board Association C.E.O. Dr. Michael Waldrup were taken under advisement.
"School district personnel and the people of the community have to be on the same page," said Waldrup. "The common goal of everyone attending these meetings should be the education of the children in the North Panola School District."
Waldrup said while the meetings should focus on education, the community still has the right to be heard and outlined three ways for community involvement.
"You have to set a time limit for comments," Waldrup said. "The board needs a way to control the community debate at board meetings so the focus remains on education.
"As a board, you must set and enforce policy when it comes to public involvement," he added. "You have to be consistent and treat everyone the same."
One suggestion made by Waldrup was limiting the public comments portion of the meeting to 30 minutes.
"If you allow three minutes per person, that would mean the first 10 people to sign in would be allowed to address the board," he said. "If that is something you adopt, make sure you don’t deviate from it."
Waldrup said comments about personnel or students should not be discussed.
"By law, personnel and students have rights," he said. "Matters like that can not be discussed in an open meeting unless the employee or student asks for a hearing."
Waldrup said matters that could require lengthy discussion or debate should be on the board’s monthly agenda.
"By making the public follow this procedure, an issue like employees or students could be discussed in an executive session," he said.
Waldrup also suggested not taking action immediately following a discussion with anyone on the agenda.
"If someone gets on the agenda and asks why a principal is treating a student in a certain manner, you don’t need to react," he said. "The smart thing would be to have the superintendent, or someone else appointed by the board, look into the matter and bring it back before you at the next board meeting."
Waldrup said if there is a specific area of community concern, the board could consider holding a public hearing to discuss just one matter.
"This type of meeting is used to address a specific topic," he said. "You have to limit the discussion to one topic or the community will take it in a million different directions."
Waldrup told board members if a person continued to speak about another topic after being admonished by the board president, the offender could be arrested and charged with disrupting a public meeting.
"You can’t allow the public to run your board meetings," he said. "You have to set policies and enforce them in order to make your meetings run more efficiently."