EXPLAINER: Can my school district prevent the public from commenting at meetings?

On three separate occasions within the past month, the Round Rock ISD board of trustees held open meetings without opportunity for public comment. Each of the meetings — one a workshop and two a specially called meeting — were held in accordance with the Texas Open Meetings Act, but some citizens questioned the district's transparency in this instance.

“Since [a trustee's] resignation, the RRISD Board of Trustees has intentionally and effectively barred citizen commentary at two consecutive ‘called’ meetings—including, it appears, tonight’s meeting,” said David G. Schmidt with Residents for Accountability and Transparency, referring to the meeting called for Sept. 11.

Community Impact Newspaper examined local district polices and the state meeting law. Here is what you should know about public comment's role in a school district's open meeting.

Is the district allowed to not hold public comment during a meeting?
Yes. District policy states, "As long as the requirements of the Open Meetings Act are satisfied and the right of citizens to apply to the Board for redress of their grievances is not abridged, the Board need not provide a public forum for every citizen wishing to express an opinion on the matter."

The Texas Open Meetings Act does not require each meeting to have a public comment portion. The law does require, though, that should a public comment portion be included, the governmental body must give notice of it in advance.

"In fairness to the public, we follow the Texas Open Meetings act, which requires that trustees present an agenda to the public that stays within the perimeter of what's discussed/allowed for discussion," District Spokeswoman Maritza Gallaga said in an e-mail.

What are the rights of a district in limiting public comment?
According to Attorney General Ken Paxton's website, a governmental body can set reasonable limits on the number, frequency and length of presentations contained within the open meeting. However, the body cannot unfairly discriminate among speakers because of their point of view.

What does it mean for a meeting to be "open to the public"?
For a meeting to qualify for this definition, public must be permitted to attend. The Open Meeting Act does not entitle the public to choose the items on the agenda or the speak about items on the agenda.

When will the next public comment section be held in Round Rock ISD?
Gallaga said the next opportunity for public comment will be held at the board's regularly scheduled Sept. 21 meeting.

For more information on the scope of the Texas Open Meetings Act, look here.


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