Don’t Restrict Free Discussion

Members of boards of education should be free to discuss school business or ask questions about it during meetings. If voters decide a school board member wastes too much time doing so or is going over material already covered adequately, they can replace him or her at the next election for that seat on the board.

But here in Ohio County, a board of education member was told Monday there would be no more discussion of the county’s now-defunct requirement that many school employees wear uniforms.

That policy was scrapped earlier this summer. It has been replaced with a requirement that school employees wear identification badges while at work.

During a Monday meeting, after the badge requirement was approved, board member Sarah Koegler asked that the old uniform policy be discussed at the next meeting.

“Our uniform policy is dead, and we won’t be addressing it anymore,” responded board President Shane Mallett, before adjourning the meeting.

Later, Mallett told our reporter the reason he cut Koegler off was that, “She was not supposed to do that … to get into issues like that where there are no board member comments scheduled on the agenda. She is well aware of that.”

Two other board members agreed with Mallett. The uniform policy “is a dead issue,” said Gary Kestner. “It’s like beating a dead dog,” commented Tim Birch of additional discussion.

Perhaps so. But the situation is reminiscent of one about six years ago, when school board members throughout the state were advised to be careful about allowing certain types of comments during meetings.

In 2008, then-board member James Jorden attempted to ask a question. It was directed at a union representative in the audience at a meeting. Then-board President Erik Schramm advised Jorden he should not ask the question because it could lead to legal problems.

Muzzling board members was not right then and it is not right now.

If Koegler still has questions about the old policy, she may be able to get answers informally, perhaps by talking to Superintendent Dianna Vargo.

But if she wants to discuss the matter during a board of education meeting, she should be permitted to do so. Our system of government at the local, state and federal levels relies on free debate – not one public official deciding what another should say during a public meeting.