Leave signs and insults at home: Palm Beach County School Board could clamp down on speakers

The Palm Beach Post | By Katherine Kokal | February 2, 2023

The changes come after three years where parents and community members have yelled out of turn, insulted board members and brought signs and flags to the board chambers to advocate for a cause.

Parents and community members coming to speak their minds about Palm Beach County schools will likely be subject to new rules, including being barred from bringing signs and flagsĀ to school board meetingsĀ and from directly addressing or insulting individual members of the school board.

School board members on Wednesday discussed several new proposed rules for public comment and decorum.

The changes come after three years of school board meetings where tensions have run high over topics ranging from face masks to school boundaries to new guidance on supporting LGBTQ+ youth.

Board Chairman Frank Barbieri supported the new rules, recounting times when members of the public had yelled out of turn, insulted board members or kept speaking after the three-minute cutoff. Part of his role as chair is to ask speakers to stop speaking when they break the rules of decorum.

The proposed rules would allow the district to cut off the microphones of speakers who directly insult school board members, district staff or Superintendent Mike Burke during their comment time. The rules would also stop the public from bringing items such as posters, flags or signs mounted on poles that could be used to disrupt the meeting to the board chambers.

The board will vote on the matter on March 1.

Anti-mask demonstrators stand along Forest Hill Boulevard outside the Palm Beach County School District offices during a school board meeting in 2021.
Anti-mask demonstrators stand along Forest Hill Boulevard outside the Palm Beach County School District offices during a school board meeting in 2021/ Greg Lovett, The Palm Beach Post

Here are the rules discussed Wednesday:

1. What kind of comments could lead to cutting off the speaker’s microphone

The school board could cut off the microphone of any speaker who:

  • Makes comments unrelated to the topic they signed up to speak about.
  • Makes comments unrelated to education.
  • Personally insults board members, the superintendent, district staff or their families.
  • References any person’s candidacy for office.

The board would continue prohibiting anonymous comments.

2. No more booing, hissing or heckling

The proposed rules would prohibit “shouting, heckling, jeering, hissing, booing, engaging in speech that defames individuals or stymies or blocks meeting progress or loud, excessive or prolonged applause that disrupts the meeting.”

3. The school board chair can remove people from the meeting

If a person becomes unruly or interferes with the meeting, the proposed rules allow the board chair to order their removal from the meeting.

The person is allowed two warnings by the board chair or school police prior to removal.

4. Attendees can’t bring signs, flags or posters

Meeting attendees will not be allowed to bring “flags, signage, placards, posters, banners, bundles and/or other objects that could be disruptive or used as weapons to Board meetings,” including anything mounted on a pole.

People who are presenting to the board may bring a poster or display if it is approved in advance, the proposed rules state.

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