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Georgetown school board likely to keep relaxed public comment rules despite recent debates

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As it stands, Georgetown's school board limits each speaker to three minutes for their comments, but does not have an overall time limit for its public comment period like neighboring Charleston County Schools' 30 minute limit.

GEORGETOWN — During a time where the public comment sections of school board meetings have become hot beds for political debates about everything from COVID-19 vaccines to teaching students about race, Georgetown County School District likely will keep its relaxed polices surrounding public comment.

The board discussed tightening its public comment policies Nov. 19 by limiting the overall time people have to speak and requiring speakers to submit comments in advance, but district attorney Lindsey Anne Thompson said members generally wanted to keep their policies as is.

"It really was clear they did not want to limit the rights of their constituents to speak at all," Thompson said.

As it stands, Georgetown's school board limits each speaker to three minutes for their comments, but does not have an overall time limit for its public comment period like neighboring Charleston County Schools' 30-minute limit.

Georgetown schools' speakers are also not required to fill out comment cards before a meeting, though they are encouraged.

Horry County Schools requires speakers to fill out an online form at least six hours before a meeting outlining things like their address, the agenda item or topic they're speaking on and whether or not they have gone to a school official with this issue beforehand. Horry County Schools limit speakers to five minutes in its 30-minute public comment period.

It is not uncommon for public comment to go on for more than an hour at Georgetown's school board meetings, especially back when the district was still debating whether or not to send students back to in-person learning or to keep a mask mandate in place.

And with school districts' public comments across the state and country being bombarded with falsities about the effectiveness of masks against COVID-19 and commentary on whether or not their children are being taught things like Critical Race Theory, it seems only subsequent that Georgetown would want to bring itself in line with its neighbor's standards.

But Thompson said board members were clear in not wanting to restrict the public's access to tell them how they feel about what's going on in their schools.

"They just really didn't want to limit peoples' speech and their ability to do so to the point where they even discussed the First Amendment," Thompson said. "They had a pretty good discussion about it and just said 'No, we're not going to limit peoples' ability to talk to us.' "

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Follow Demi Lawrence on Twitter @DemiNLawrence.

Demi Lawrence reports on Georgetown County for The Post and Courier. She graduated from Ball State University in 2020, and previously was an intern at The Herald Bulletin in Anderson, Indiana and Indianapolis Monthly.

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