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Gainesville school board debates how to receive public comments
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Gainesville City Schools will continue to hear comments from residents who sign up to speak at meetings and will do that earlier in its meetings — following one of the longer meetings the board has held in months.

The board met in a work session for more than two hours Monday, dealing almost entirely with a series of changes to board policies.

Board Chair Delores Diaz introduced the policies by noting changes had been discussed “for well over a year.”

In addition to its decisions about public comments, the board spent nearly an hour debating whether and when board members could go to schools.

The board voted to change its agenda to move “citizens’ comment,” which have been just before adjournment, to before the board begins its agenda where votes are taken.

It was noted that citizens’ comments were higher on the agenda in times past. Why was that changed, board member John Filson asked.

Whispers among board members and some chuckling were the only responses.

The board also deleted a proposal that would have required residents to sign up to speak by noon Thursday before a board meeting on Monday.

That would require people to sign up before they know what is on the agenda, board member Sammy Smith said.

Diaz said having the earlier sign-up would allow board members to look into the subject and be better able to respond.

“It’s a bit much to ask. We should be inviting, and that’s a bit much to ask of folks,” Smith said.

“It’d be nice to know what they’re going to talk about, but it’s probably not practical,” vice chair Brett Mercer said.

The board’s “operating protocol” continued to draw debate — and dissent. The board had tabled the proposed protocol at its April meeting. That was done in a 4-1 vote, with Diaz dissenting.

Smith made the April motion to table. He suggested tabling it again Monday, but Diaz argued against putting it off again.

One portion of the proposal — “school visits” — garnered the most debates.

The proposed protocol called for board members to visit schools “by making arrangements with district or school administrators at least 24 hours in advance.”

The restriction of 24 hours was eventually dropped and instead of “making arrangements with,” the language was changed to “notifying” administrators.

Board member Willie Mitchell argued against that — saying “every now and then,” he would like to visit a school “unscheduled” and just look around.

Smith added sometimes he would prefer to go to a school for lunch without necessarily notifying anyone.

Diaz again defended the more restrictive language.

“I have a different point of view than most of you because of my experience as a teacher,” she said. Diaz is a former Hall County teacher.

Smith said Hall County board members go to schools on unscheduled visits. They did not when she was a teacher, Diaz said.

Filson asked if the school district has a problem with board members making school visits.

Diaz said, “I would say, ‘yes.’”

Filson said he received several comments from citizens about the proposal — generally complaining that it would restrict access to the schools.

He also objected to the 24-hour wait.

“I think you ought to be able to go to a school and say, ‘I’m here for this purpose,’” Filson said.

The board is expected to consider all of the revised policies at its May 16 meeting.