The Pflugerville ISD board of trustees voted unanimously Oct. 1 to uphold a controversial public comment policy change from September 2019.
The decision followed the September 2019 codification of House Bill 2840, which amended the Texas Open Meetings Act. Per the amendment, "a governmental body shall allow each member of the public who desires to address the body regarding an item on an agenda for an open meeting of the body to address the body regarding the item at the meeting before or during the body’s consideration of the item.”
Under PfISD's interpretation of the ruling, members of the public may only comment on agenda items during regular board meetings, with board workshops open to public comment on issues included, and not included, on a workshop agenda. The ruling was upheld at a February board meeting.
PfISD's board again revisited the policy Oct. 1 following a grievance filed by the Pflugerville Educators Association, a teachers union affiliated with the Texas State Teachers Association.
Legal representation for PfEA argued the amended Texas Open Meetings Act was designed to increase the public's accessibility to engaging with elected officials and said PfISD's ruling stripped that right from the public. PfISD's legal representation argued members of the public can still engage with the board via email or other communication channels for time sensitive items and added the amended policy was made prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and was not reactive to it.
Four members of the public spoke against the policy change Oct. 1, each arguing the amended policy limited the public's ability to comment on critical, board-centered issues in a timely manner.
PfISD teacher Lydia Salaiz said that in the era of the coronavirus, issues arise quickly and are time-sensitive. She added community members should have to address the board directly and in a public setting, regardless of which items are specifically denoted on a given agenda.
“My concerns have kind of just been overlooked or rejected or answered and filled with what I believe are untruths," Salaiz said, later adding: "I want our district to look good and not be facing ridicule anywhere else.”
PfISD teacher Dan Dawer encouraged the board to review its policy and allow the public to bring forth comments and concerns, citing the nature of COVID-19 and its spread in PfISD and the greater Pflugerville community. These issues, he said, should not have to wait until Oct. 15 for board comment.
He said he has received messages from his students, who have expressed their own fears and frustrations over district handling of the coronavirus pandemic and school reopenings. These students and other community members, Dawer said, ought to have the right to have their concerns heard.
“Reopening the schools has put students, staff and their families in danger," Dawer said, reading a comment he had received from a PfISD high school junior. "This isn’t a political issue. This is a matter of life and death.”
Pflugerville ISD moves to uphold controversial public comment policy
The Pflugerville ISD board of trustees voted Oct. 1 to uphold a controversial public comment policy change from September 2019. (Iain Oldman/Community Impact Newspaper)