Keep this policy out of the books

Published 5:13 pm Tuesday, October 6, 2020

A month ago, the Suffolk community first learned of the Suffolk School Board’s intention to level another restriction against free speech and transparency by regulating who can speak at its meetings.

The proposed change to policy said that only members of the “Suffolk community” could speak at meetings. After realizing that was too vague, the board at least had the good sense to define what that means in its revised proposed policy.

However, we remain against the policy change, because it leaves too many people out and because we believe it is unnecessary.

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In the revision, members of the Suffolk community were defined as such: any resident of Suffolk; any parent or legal guardian of a child enrolled in SPS; any business owner licensed to conduct business in the city; any person who owns property in Suffolk; any employee of SPS; and any student enrolled in SPS.

They surely hit all of the main categories that are needed, but this proposed policy still leaves people out — some very important people.

It leaves out Grandma and Grandpa who live in Chesapeake or Carrollton or Gates County and really enjoy driving to Suffolk to volunteer at their grandchild’s school. They have some excellent input about their volunteerism that they would like the entire board to hear, but SPS volunteers aren’t listed in this policy, nor are grandparents unless they are also the child’s guardian.

It leaves out leaders in major regional industries and economic drivers like the shipyards, the port, the military, colleges and universities and others. They want to talk about how SPS prepares its students for the real world, but they can’t, unless that particular person also happens to live in or own property in Suffolk.

It leaves out experts in their field and movers and shakers in the nonprofit world who might have valuable input on the topic of the day — again, unless that particular person also happens to live in or own property in Suffolk.

It leaves out former employees, unless they happen to live in Suffolk, who may want to advocate on behalf of their colleagues still in the system who may not feel they are able to speak out.

It leaves out alumni of Suffolk Public Schools who want to discuss their insights as a graduate now trying to navigate the world — once again, unless they happen to live in or own property in Suffolk.

The number of people who could have valuable input but wouldn’t be permitted to speak under this new policy is incalculable. One wonders if exceptions will be granted. If exceptions will be granted to virtually everyone, this policy will become meaningless. If exceptions will be granted only to a select few, what will be the basis for determining to whom to grant exceptions?

We again question whether this policy is even necessary. We’re not seeing a line of non-Suffolkians around the block on Market Street waiting to waste the board’s time talking about nonsense.

We’re again encouraging the board to give up its relentless push to make SPS less transparent and accessible and focus on the business at hand — providing 14,000 Suffolk youngsters a rigorous, well-rounded education as safely and efficiently as possible.