The Albemarle County School Board is tweaking its public comment procedures to limit the number of speakers following several meetings with dozens of speakers.
The board will cap the number of speakers at 40 and use a random lottery to pick those speakers if more than 40 people sign up, according to a news release. Jon Zug, clerk for the Albemarle County Circuit Court, will pick the speakers using a random selection system similar to the one used for jury selection.
School division spokesman Phil Giaramita said that Zug was chosen because board members believed the lottery could only work if the process was seen by the public as being fair, open, tried and true.
Officials said in the release that the changes will offer “as much opportunity as possible for public comment while allowing for the efficient conduct of school division business.”
The new rules will go into effect for the School Board’s next meeting, on July 8, which will be held virtually. The deadline to sign up for public comment is 2 p.m. July 8. Signups will open at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday at k12albemarle.org/school-board.
If the lottery is necessary, individuals who signed up will be notified Thursday afternoon whether they were selected to speak. Those selected won’t be eligible to enter the lottery at the board’s following meeting, on Aug. 12, if a lottery is needed.
The agenda for the board’s July 8 meeting hasn’t been posted yet, but schools Superintendent Matt Haas and other division administrators are expected to give a presentation about the anti-bias lessons at Henley Middle School that some parents have objected to and that triggered waves of comments at recent board meetings.
Typically, the board plans for 10 speakers during a 30-minute public comment section. In the last year, the number of speakers regularly exceeded 10, especially when a decision about reopening the schools was on the agenda.
Recently, public comment took up the bulk of the meeting as there were only a few other agenda items. For example, at the board’s May 27 meeting, public comment lasted more than an hour as 32 people signed up to speak. The whole meeting ran for one hour and 40 minutes.
Division officials said in the release that because of the number of people speaking at meetings, public comment has extended into time set aside to review or vote on agenda items.
“On occasion, agenda items have had to be deferred to a future meeting,” according to the release.
Under School Board policy, when a significant number of people sign up to speak, their time for comments can be reduced from three to two minutes. If a lottery is used, those who are selected will have two minutes to speak.
In addition to speaking publicly at meetings, community members can email comments to the clerk of the board at firstname.lastname@example.org or to the entire board at email@example.com.