Meeting Abuses Lead Haverhill School Committee to Limit Public Comments to Agenda Items

Haverhill School Committee member Gail M. Sullivan. (WHAV News file photograph)

The Haverhill School Committee plans to limit unscheduled public comments at its meetings to items on the agenda, with members saying the comment policy has been abused.

Committee members speaking last Thursday night said the public participation segment of regular meetings has been used to discuss personal issues of individual children that is legally private and complaints about individual staff members. Committee member Gail M. Sullivan said, while these issues need to be discussed, public comment is not the proper venue.

“I’m concerned that what’s happening to public comment because I see what is happening here is people that have serious concerns that we need to take seriously, but public comment is not the place where you do it,” she argued.

Vice Chairperson Toni Sapienza-Donais agreed, noting the Committee has a public comment policy in effect, but it is not always enforced. She suggested policy guidelines be announced at the beginning of every meeting.

“At the beginning of each public comment, state some guidelines and one of them would be that the speaker is allowed to three minutes. The topics that the people can talk about have to be limited to those that are listed on the School Committee agenda for that evening. Any abusive remarks will be called out of order, and if the speaker persists in improper conduct, the chairperson will terminate that individual’s speaking time,” she said.

While agreeing with making it policy to read those guidelines before opening the floor to the public, Committee member Scott W. Wood Jr. made the point that unless those rules are enforced by the chairperson, they will not be effective.

The Committee, nonetheless, voted unanimously to announcing the rules at the beginning of each meeting.

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