Mars Area parents ask about board's public comment policy

November 5, 2020 Cranberry Living

Advertisement | Advertise Here

ADAMS TWP — The Mars Area School Board held its Wednesday night virtual meeting from the middle school following a district announcement this week that the high school is closed through Friday.

The closure is to allow time for deep cleaning in response to three new COVID-19 cases in the high school identified earlier this week. Students are expected to return to school Tuesday following a planned in-service day Monday for teachers.

Public comment policy

An item expected to be on next week's agenda for approval drew comments from several people Wednesday.

Revisions of Policy 903 (public attendance and comment at board meetings) are expected to be approved. One of the biggest changes to the policy is limiting public comment to three minutes per person instead of five, as the policy currently allows.

Greg Mason, a district resident, asked the board to explain the planning that went into that decision.

Mason said he agreed with the fact that the 30-minute public comment period at the start of the meeting should be about agenda items only and the 30-minute period at the end should be for nonagenda items. Still, he wanted to know why the per-person time limit was lowered.

John Kennedy, school board president, said three minutes seems to be in line with what districts in other counties do.

Sallie Wick, a board member, said the shorter public comment per person will also let more people speak in the allotted 30-minutes.

“We want to hear as many community members as we can,” Wick said.

“It's not about limiting,” said Mark Gross, district superintendent. “It's actually about maximizing the number of folks.”

Responding to a question from Mason, Kennedy said the board has had to cut people off during public comment due to time.

Board member Megan Lenz said she had other concerns about the policy revisions.

Specifically, Lenz said the wording in revised Policy 903 would preclude parents who live outside the district, but send their children to Mars Area, from having the chance to speak. In a case like divorce, Lenz said that could be detrimental to a child's education.

Beth Ziegler, a district resident, said she's concerned about the wording regarding who can speak during public comment under the revised policy. The drafted revisions state “the board requires that public participants be permanent residents and taxpayers of this district.”

She said that could mean someone who rents in the district isn't eligible to speak.

Dayle Ferguson, board member, said she would be in favor of changing the word “and” to “or.”

Share this article:
Samantha Beal

Samantha Beal