Log in Subscribe
Pencil Shavings

The ups and downs of limited public forums

Dawn Hankins
Posted 5/21/22

The Cascade community has expressed to me this week that citizens in attendance at Tuesday’s school board meeting should have been recognized with their questions and comments.  

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in
Pencil Shavings

The ups and downs of limited public forums


The Cascade community has expressed to me this week that citizens in attendance at Tuesday’s school board meeting should have been recognized with their questions and comments.  

Please don’t “kill the messenger” here. I’ve had enough of that this week. But, let’s sort some of this out. First of all, fact is fact. The way the laws are set up in Tennessee, school boards are not obligated by law to hear or respond to public comment during business meetings.  

Perhaps, some public hearings could be advantageous? Most school systems allow public comment in some fashion. Some will allow agenda items only to be discussed by the public, and that’s not an uncommon approach, according to Tennessee School Board Association (TSBA.)  

Well, that’s something, at least.  

Shelbyville City Council allows public comments at the end of each monthly meeting. They organize public hearings on ordinances. There’s that much for those interested in their community.  

Robert’s Rules of Order, now revised according to TSBA, continues after many, many years to be used as a guide for conducting public meetings.  

While it’s not iron clad to use Robert’s Rules, it’s simply been tried and in most cases, remains effective, according to TSBA.  

But did Bedford County school board paint itself in a corner of procedure this week? From all indications of the chaos at Tuesday’s board meeting, maybe. (Callers have shared with me how many people left the meeting feeling ignored and unimportant.)  

As I sat amidst all the anger generated in the Harris Middle library Tuesday, I started thinking that Robert’s Rules should be suspended.  

I know that it is permissible, based on Tennessee State Board of Education rules. Still, there’s always a catch.  

If school boards want to suspend those rules, according to TSBE, the body must constitute a quorum and a majority vote has to prevail to do so. I guess what I’m saying is, let’s have some transparency. Or, get real.  

If tensions weren’t high enough Tuesday, the school board threw out its policy: individuals desiring to appear before the board must request placement on the agenda 10 days before the meeting. (Think game show buzzer for a wrong answer.)  

Yes, there were a few “you’ve got to be kidding,” remarks. Why?  

The school system announced the Cascade High administration changes on Monday evening. This means those wanting to be heard Tuesday were out of luck.  

They were told in no uncertain terms they would have to submit a “10-day request” which meant they could possibly get on the June agenda.  

In all fairness, some citizens got loud Tuesday night. But was having them called out by sheriff’s deputies really necessary? They just wanted to be heard.  

Have we forgotten how to regroup? Some people are just a little more abrasive when they’re hurting. I guess that’s all a perspective from where you sat Tuesday.  

I wonder if the board knew Tuesday night how many teachers, students and parents were literally weeping at school over the news of Young’s removal as Cascade High principal? 

Yes, I listened to those callers Tuesday in my office—many crying over the phone. One alumna said she’s never witnessed this chaos within Cascade ever before. Could a few more consoling words possibly gotten thrown their way?  

It’s been a tough two years for everybody. Now this? Think about the timing. Perhaps the Cascade community could have been a little more tactful in their approach.  

But would it have really made any difference Tuesday night? That didn’t seem to be the case, as one man just asked if teachers had been surveyed on a new policy. He was even shut down by the board.  

Does the board have a moral obligation to its constituents? Have we become desensitized along the way? Could this event not have been considered a special situation, warranting a public hearing?  

The agenda was pretty standard stuff Tuesday night, which could have been delayed until June. Better than me to explain, here’s what the Freedom Forum Institute says about public comment in open meetings and First Amendment rights.  

“Government officials can limit comments to the relevant subject matter, control disruptive or overly repetitive speakers and impose reasonable time, place and manner restrictions on speech. However, when government officials create a public-comment forum, they have created a limited public forum in which greater free-speech protections apply.”  

Even though the removal of Josh Young from Cascade was not on the May agenda, perhaps it would have helped board relations within the community to have acknowledged the large crowd that showed up.  

Could the board have suspended Robert’s Rules and told the crowd that they would field their questions, not comment on them, but would have them some answers in June. They could have set down some rules for that process Tuesday night when fielding those questions? Perhaps.  

Instead, people left even angrier. Sure it might have possibly fanned the flames a bit more in this situation. But with the board being so resistant toward public comments, it was like throwing more gasoline on an already blazing fire.  

Despite what might have transpired between Mr. Young and the school system, his personnel file is confidential. So we don’t know the whole story.  

But the bigger picture is that the people still had a right to be heard this week. As they say, “It’s a hot mess.”  

So, those citizens continue with their protest. I was told today that the Cascade High community has collected around 1,600 signatures toward re-instatement of their principal.

Power to the people.