The Palo Alto Unified School District board approved a recommendation to reduce public comment time from three minutes to two minutes per speaker at Tuesday’s meeting.
The recommendation was made by an ad hoc committee consisting of board president Ken Dauber and board member Shounak Dharap that was created after the board approved remote public comment in June. Four out of the six recommendations made by the committee were passed in August. The remaining two were brought back to discussion at this week’s meeting.
Members of the community urged the board to keep the three-minute time allowance, claiming that limiting public comment time was unnecessary and damaging to the community’s voice.
“Democracy is not a spectator sport,” said Meb Steiner, president of Palo Alto’s California School Employees Association chapter, during public comment. “Democracy requires, it demands, active participation, and if we don’t model that in a school board meeting then we are not modeling that for our students.”
The motion was approved by a 3-2 vote, however. Dauber, Dharap and board member Todd Collins voted in favor of adopting the recommendation, while vice president Jennifer DiBrienza and board member Jesse Ladomirak voted against it. Both student board representatives voted a preferential “no.”
“Two minutes versus three minutes is not gonna have a dramatic impact,” Collins said during the discussion. “I think having conservative rules that can be dialed up is better than having liberal rules that require being dialed down because in the moment you’ll never dial it down.”
The ad hoc committee’s second recommendation proposed a 30-minute cap on public comment for each agenda item. This proposal was previously discussed and approved, but never implemented because it wasn’t instantiated in board policy, according to Collins, who first proposed the rule back in 2017.
“The next step on the 30-minute rule is to bring it to agenda setting and it’ll presumably get put on the board’s agenda,” Dauber said at the meeting. “Even if it wasn’t observed, that lack of observance doesn’t sort of silently repeal it. It needs to be either observed or repealed, rather than left in that state.”