Two senators suggested school boards should have public comment before each action item. (Unsplash)

Does school board public comment bill go far enough? 

Jarek RutzHeadlines, Education

Two senators suggested school boards should have public comment before each action item. (Unsplash)

Two senators suggested school boards should have public comment before each action item. (Unsplash)

A bill that blew through the House unanimously got some blowback Wednesday in the Senate Education Committee.

House Bill 34, sponsored by Rep. Kim Williams, D-Marshallton, chair of the House Education Committee, would require district and charter school boards to hold a public comment period before the board moves on to action items requiring a vote. 

It will not require public comment on procedural items such as a  request to approve minutes or enter into executive session.

Williams said most school boards already have public comment segments in meetings. However, she said, Red Clay Consolidated School District sometimes allows for public comment only after its board votes on matters.

The state Board of Education and many city councils already allow public comment on each item to be voted on.

Others lump public comment into one section of a meeting, rather than giving people the chance to speak when an item is up for a vote.

Sen. Eric Buckson, R-Dover, argued that the bill should require public comment on each action item vote.

He said putting everything into a single segment is simply a convenience to school board members, who are elected officials, rather than the parents who put them into office. 

“Not all action items are going to be contentious, and not all of them will even require a public comment because no one will stand up,” Buckson said.

School board meetings often last three hours or more and routinely last beyond 11 p.m. on what are school and work nights. 

Several legislators in the hearing pointed out this makes it hard for parents to stick around to share their thoughts. 

Buckson suggested that school boards should hold their executive session, which is a private meeting, at the end of the meeting, rather than at the beginning or middle.

“When you put an open-ended executive session on the front end, it provides convenience for you [board members] but challenges your constituents,” he said.

Sen. Stephanie Hansen, D-Middletown, agreed with Bucksone. 

“It’s a job that you’re elected to do and if you have to stay late then you have to stay late,” she said. “The ability for the citizens to participate right before the vote and hearing the discussion on those particular items is important.”

The bill was eventually released by the committee, although seven of the eight votes it got were simply on its merits. That means the legislators aren’t necessarily in favor of the bill, but they want it to be released to the full Senate for discussion.

Also at the hearing, newly elected Sen. Kyra Hoffner, D-Smyrna, introduced her first bill. It aims to provide immediate help for students who have epilepsy. 

Senate Bill 24 would require all schools with a student diagnosed with a seizure disorder to train at least two employees in the administration of rescue medication or treatment.

Training would include how to administer a dose of prescribed electrical stimulation using a Vagus Nerve Stimulator magnet. 

A school nurse is not required to meet these training requirements but may serve as one of the two employees who are trained.

SB 24 says bus drivers or other school employees with direct contact and supervision of students should be trained every two years in administering first aid to a student suffering from a seizure. 

Parents with a child who has seizures need to provide the school with a written seizure rescue plan that authorizes the employees to act if a seizure occurs.

The Epilepsy Foundation Delaware has agreed to pay for the training, meaning the state will not incur costs, Hoffner said.

There were a few suggestions that if the training is only an hour or two, perhaps  the entire staff members should be trained every year. That would allow the foundation to pass on any new techniques or information. 

Ann Covey, who works in health services at the Department of Education, said she would like to get more specifics on how training would be conducted and how the bill’s requirements would be enforced if someone doesn’t complete the training.  

It was not clear Thursday morning if the bill was released.

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Also on the agenda Wednesday was Senate Bill 32, sponsored by Sen. Nicole Poore, D-Delaware City, to add blindness/visual impairment to the list of programs funded to run year-round.

As of now, the only children who qualify for them are those identified with severe mental disability, trainable mental disability, autism, traumatic brain injury,  deaf-blindness or orthopedic disability, limited to cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, spina bifida, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, amputation, arthrogryposis, or contractures caused by fractures or burns. 

It passed unanimously and will head to the Senate floor.

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