EDITORIAL: Even the worst voices need to be heard at school board meetings — don’t cull the public

A packed Aug. 9, 2021 Cherry Creek School District meeting. Dozens of people turned out to address the board on issues including mask mandates and critical race theory, drawing the meeting out until late into night. PHOTO BY CARINA JULIG/Sentinel Colorado

Governing is hard. Governing in a pandemic and at a time when polarizing issues meet polarized governments is even more difficult.

But the people we elect to make decisions for all of us must resist the temptation to limit the public’s access to the decision-making process or make the most important aspects of government — transparency and accountability — less transparent or accountable.

Whether a handful of recent, local instances are a trend or just a worrisome sign of the times, they need to be checked and reversed.

Last week, the Cherry Creek Schools board “revised” its policy on how the public is able to comment publicly on matters affecting board action, or just issues in general.

Over the summer, the school district board was inundated with people wanting to weigh in on and influence the school board’s action on mask mandates in the district and the trendy controversy surrounding “critical race theory.”

A few weeks ago, the school board listened to hours of brief comments from dozens of people determined to bend the ear of board members on either preventing or promoting the application of “critical race theory” in any classroom setting.

Like most educators, we’re well aware what a ruse this contention is. The red-herring surrounding this academic straw man from decades past is nothing more than a vehicle for supercharging political extremists.

The FoxNews version of this canard is that CRT proponents teach white children to be ashamed of their race, because it continues to be used to bludgeon people of color.

It’s a lie, and a well-exposed one. It’s purposely confused with the decades-old trend of critically examining mythologies in the history of the United States and all over the world. An example is in the more accurate portrayal of Christopher Columbus. Once unquestionably treated as the discoverer of the New World and veritable inventor of America, he is now more accurately recalled in school history classes as a driven and often ruthless explorer who cared little for the native residents he encountered.

The contemporary objectors to teaching history that reflects reality have virtually stormed the Cherry Creek school board and others, demanding board members hear their profligate musings on the matter.

Much of what members of the public addressed the misinformation, and yet others promoted it. Whether opinions came from district “insiders” or “outsiders” doesn’t matter.

In an overreaction, the school board last week adopted new rules limiting public comment to those who live within the district “or have some connection” to the school district.

In a further effort to limit speakers, the school board requires that anyone wanting to address the panel sign up to do so hours before the meeting even begins.

It’s all a bad move that needs to be reversed.

First off, everyone has very real connections to Cherry Creek schools, and all school districts. Graduates of Cherry Creek, or the increasing number of students who don’t graduate, don’t stay in the confines of the district. We all are affected by the good or shoddy work of every school district.

Also, Cherry Creek Schools, like all public schools, operates on an amalgam of taxes collected within the district, across the state and across the country. Everyone has a financial connection to the schools in this and every district.

Just as important, however, is the fact that there’s no shortage of people living inside the district with bizarre or outlandish notions of whether mask mandates are important or what’s right or wrong for history classes.

We agree, as a regular, silent observer of every school board meeting, that the throngs of crackpot commentary is annoying and distracting at a time when real problems need the full attention of the school board.

But this comes with providing the critical ability to talk to decision makers when it counts, in public, so that the press and constituents are able to hold elected officials and their appointees accountable.

Whether this, and similar measures across the region, is nothing but empty and truly unenforceable barking in hopes of discouraging non-local useless banter, it’s wrong.

Similarly, the non-elected Tri-County Board of Health has shown a penchant for moving arguments into “executive sessions” simply because the topics are controversial. The board was rightfully called out for it last month by Douglas County officials during discussions about mask mandates in schools. Under a wise state law, sensitive topics do not warrant stealth.

Neither the public nor our governments are ever well-served by secrecy. Nothing ensures better policy creation than open meetings, public engagement and full disclosure.

While we sympathize with officials who must tolerate inanities from the public or even each other, it’s the price that comes with real democracy and accountable, representative government.

It is, however, worth the cost.

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10 months ago

whatever perceived interest that outsiders may have in school board meetings is very minor at best compared to those of actual residents and is SIGNIFICANTLY outweighed by the harm they cause to actual residents who have MUCH MUCH MORE interest in their own children’s educational issues than they do. No school board should permit outsiders to participate in and stack these meetings to further political agendas to the detriment of OTHER PEOPLES’ children. F these people. Let them find a different platform for their politics and stop letting them hijack our school board meetings. This author is flat out wrong.

Joe Felice
Joe Felice
10 months ago

Only people who have a stake. Others, butt out.