Lakota Schools BOE creates new public ‘listening session’

Lakota’s school board took the final step toward creating a special, pre-meeting “listening session” for school parents and residents who want to share their opinions directly with board members.

The board approved the creation of the listening session during a special meeting Monday evening after a resolution had its second, mandatory reading.

The first such session, which will last for 45 minutes prior to a regular school board meeting, will be conducted on Monday April 3 and will start at 5:30 p.m.

The full board meeting, which is scheduled to be at Lakota East Freshman School in Liberty Twp., will begin at 6:30 p.m.

Board members will only listen during these new sessions and not take any actions. The new sessions are designed in part to better accommodate the occasionally numerous public speakers at Lakota board meetings in recent months stretching into 2022.

The board voted 4-1, with member Darbi Boddy casting a “no” vote, to change its public participation policy allowing it the option of determining whether it will continue to conduct a 30-minute public comment section during the proceedings of its regular meeting in addition to the new 45-minute listening session.

ExploreLakota board moves to add flexibility to public comment sessions

According to a statement by Lakota officials the sessions will begin at 5:30 p.m. in the East Freshman cafeteria.

“Those who wish to speak will still be required to sign up ahead of time by completing an online form or in person at Lakota’s Central Office during regular business hours. The sign-up form will be available when the board meeting’s agenda is posted to “BoardDocs,” typically by 9 a.m. on the Friday before the Monday meeting” and available for viewing on Lakota’s website.

Unlike the now optional 30-minute public comment section of each board meeting, where the board has banned compliments and complaints of Lakota school personnel besides board members, no topics are off limits for the new listening sessions, said Lakota officials.

“Speakers will continue to have three minutes to address the board, unless more than 15 people sign up. If there are more than 15 registered speakers, the board may decrease speaking time to two minutes per person to allow more participants to speak,” said officials.

“Those registering to speak will receive an email confirmation from the treasurer’s office the day of the listening session to confirm their participation. This email will also confirm whether they will have three or two minutes to address the board.”

The school board has made the changes in public comment sections of board meetings in the wake of recent lawsuits settled and pending concerning speech restrictions imposed by the board.

Lakota officials have also expressed safety concerns regarding the sometimes raucous audiences and about school children being honored at board meetings for their accomplishments hearing accusations directed toward Lakota employees.

Earlier this month, Interim Lakota Superintendent Robb Vogelmann voiced his concerns and a need for a different approach, saying: “How can we get that…meeting focused so there aren’t people yelling out and interrupting people, either at the table speaking or at the microphone speaking?”

Board of Education President Lynda O’Connor has said: “My primary concern is safety.”

“I think we’ve had a lot of increased tension and … safety concerns, at our meetings,” said O’Connor, who added she sought to add to the board’s efficiency and productivity.

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