Board to consider residency requirement for public speakers

Published 4:58 pm Tuesday, September 8, 2020

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The Suffolk School Board will consider a policy Sept. 10 that appears to limit comment at its meetings to only city residents, rather than anyone regardless of residency status.

The proposed policies governing public speakers during its two comment periods would change from “members of the community” or “general public” to “members of the Suffolk community.”

The current policy has not changed since July 2017 for speakers during the early part of the meeting, and has not changed for the latter part of the meeting since January 2006.

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The proposed changes will get a first reading at the board’s upcoming meeting.

At the Sept. 1 Policy Review Committee, School Board Attorney Wendell Waller said the changes were to clarify which community would be allowed to speak at the board’s meetings.

“In order to make it clear that the community to which the policy refers is the Suffolk community,” Waller said during that meeting, “the word ‘Suffolk’ is to be recommended to be inserted, so that those coming to speak before the School Board, assuming this policy is adopted, would be members of the Suffolk community.”

The members of the committee, Board Chairwoman Phyllis Byrum and Vice Chairwoman Dr. Judith Brooks-Buck, said they did not have an issue with the proposed change.

“I think that’s important,” Brooks-Buck said the committee meeting.

The rest of the policy, including the amount of time people would be allowed to speak, would not change.

“That will probably also mean that when someone comes to speak before the board, you need to be sure that they give you their address,” Waller said, “to make sure that they even have standing.”

One court case in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, Rowe v. City of Cocoa, appears to allow for a residency requirement for public speakers at meetings. It said that a residency requirement for public speakers “was reasonable and viewpoint neutral,” as it is not restricting speech based on content.

The agenda for the board’s upcoming meeting can be found at