|Two Sisters Pumpkin Patch, Van Thompson Road, opened for the season Sept. 20. The pumpkin patch is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. It is closed on Sundays. Pictured above is Isabella Hernandez, 4 months, during her first visit to the pumpkin patch. Photo courtesy Two Sisters Pumpkin Patch.
|Parent speaks out on school policy
|By Tom Marshall
Senior Advocate writer
Bobby Stinnett, who describes himself as a concerned parent, said he would contact Frankfort and take necessary action if the Montgomery County Board of Education tries to restrict what the public can say at public meetings.
Stinnett told the board Tuesday night that he has spoken to attorneys with the state Attorney General’s Office and Kentucky Education Professional Standards Board who tell him such attempts are a violation of Constitutional rights.
Prior to meetings those who wish to speak before the board must sign a policy that prohibits “disparaging or critical remarks about individuals or employees of the district.”
The policy also notes that “this is not intended to be a time for debate; however, the board will take the public’s input into consideration when making their final decision.”
Speakers are allowed three minutes to speak, but have generally been granted more time.
The policy also rules out personal criticism/complaints.
“Critical comments or complaints are processed through the district’s complaint procedures, which afford individuals to whom comments or complaints are directed, the opportunity for response and due process,” the policy states.
The policy also says that individuals may not address “any topic of district-related concern that is not on the official agenda for this meeting.”
Personnel matters are also off limits.
“It as an illegal, unconstitutional school board policy,” Stinnett said. “I’m telling you, you can’t do so. That being said, the board can’t stop someone from making critical comments.”
Board chair Kenney Gulley said the board has no plans to restrict speech at meetings, but he finds it difficult to weigh the public’s right to speak while preventing personal attacks.
Several speakers have been critical of superintendent Josh Powell and the board in recent meetings.
When an exchange broke out between Powell and a speaker at Tuesday night’s meeting, board attorney Michelle Williams noted that the board does not have to allow the public to speak and has the authority to take the public comment portion off the agenda.
The board did not take action on allowing the public to speak.
Stinnett said the restrictive policy only came about after Powell was hired as superintendent.
He said it is difficult to understand how someone like Powell, who claimed at a recent meeting that the critical comments about him were an unconstitutional attack on his rights, would try to take away the Constitutional rights of someone else.
“It shows me that when Mr. Powell came into office he changed and influenced the school board policy to shut down conversation from the public to the board,” Stinnett said. “
Stinnett told the board that he was upset that they or Powell had failed to act on a complaint months ago that staff be educated on people’s rights to freedom of religion.
At the time, Stinnett claimed a staff member at one of the schools told a student they couldn’t say “Thank you Jesus” publicly.
Stinnett said he has spoken with 34 teachers who say they have not talked to administrators about the issue. He told the board the issue needs to be addressed and he plans to bring it up at next month’s meeting.
Powell responded that the Kentucky School Board’s Association has outlined procedures to deal with freedom of religion and teachers are familiar with students’ rights.
“Our staff is well aware of how to handle these situations,” he said.
There was one other speaker at the meeting. That was Bruce Walters, who has spoken out at several recent meetings.
Walters asked Powell to address remarks he has made about the poor financial condition of the school system when he came on board and how he turned things around. He claims he has spoken with former Superintendent Daniel Freeman who says that was not the case.
“Why let him take credit for something he didn’t do,” Walters said of Powell.
Powell responded that he has improved the district’s financial condition in which 82 percent of the budget now goes for staff salaries, up from 73 percent previously.
Walters also said he was concerned about a recent confrontation with Powell when he claims Powell asked him to “step outside” at a school function. He alleges Powell acted like he wanted to fight so he refused to go outside with him.
“You are the biggest bully in the school system,” he told Powell.
Powell responded by accusing Walters of harassment. He said it has been ongoing ever since he canceled a contract with Walters for mowing of school property.
“I have five young children and if they are threatened I will respond,” Powell said.
More details about Tuesday’s meeting will appear next week.