BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – The Brevard County School Board will soon vote on new rules aimed at taming its boisterous public comment period, which has sometimes extended meetings in recent months by hours and required intervention from security, according to News 6 partner Florida Today.
The rules would allow the board to shorten speaking times when large numbers of speakers are present, prevent speakers from raising signs during meetings and relegate non-agenda public comment until the end of the meeting without broadcasting it.
The School Board discussed the policy at a Sept. 21 policy work session prior to a School Board meeting. None of the board members disagreed with the policy, but measures such as allowing mothers with children present or BPS employees to speak first and banning umbrellas large enough to be used as weapons were discussed.
The changes come in response to an influx of public speakers at board meetings. School Board meetings have come to feature sometimes 40 or more public speakers, most of whom focus on mask mandates, critical race theory or other heavily politicized issues regardless of agenda items, extending the length of meetings by sometimes hours.
Speakers have regularly clashed verbally with the board during public comment sections, often shouting or refusing to leave the podium when their allotted time expired. Some have been led out by security after being asked to leave.
School Board Chair Misty Belford said the board’s general counsel suggested some policy changes to reign in the public comment section after the issue was brought up at a board retreat in late August.
Not filming the non-agenda items could remove some of the incentive for public speakers to act out, Belford said. She added that the board is not required to broadcast comments on non-agenda items, and other counties hold space for public input on non-agenda issues without broadcasting it.
“There is some consensus that perhaps it would cut down on some of the … I’ll say, more robust behaviors,” Belford said.
Current rules hold public speaking times to three minutes during regularly-scheduled School Board meetings. At some meetings, such as the emergency meeting that put in place the mask mandate and the special meeting during which the School Board will again discuss the mask policy, the board can limit public comment further. The roughly 140 speakers who arrived at the Aug. 30 meeting during which the mask mandate was voted into place were limited to one minute each.
Under the proposed change, if there are 10 speakers or less, speakers can address the board for up to three minutes. If there are 11-20 speakers, speakers can have two minutes, and if there are more than 20 speakers, each speaker will have one minute. The School Board would be able to modify the length of public speaking times during meetings as well.
Speakers addressing issues not included in the agenda would speak after the meeting, and their comments would not be broadcasted. Signs in the board room would have to remain with one edge touching the ground so that they do not block other audience members’ views.
If a speaker begins to speak about a non-agenda item during the agenda public comment time, the presiding officer (usually the board chair) can stop their comment and move them to the non-agenda portion of the meeting.
The new policy could be approved Oct. 26 and would be effective immediately.