An open letter from Katie Braude, executive director of Speak UP, to President Mónica García, Vice President Nick Melvoin, and members of the board. This commentary was originally published by LA School Report.:
I am writing to share the collective dismay of parents and community members who attended the board meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 21.
In particular, I am writing on behalf of the parents who went to great lengths to arrange for childcare, organize transportation to travel long distances, and some of whom took off time from work to make their voices heard in a public forum on an issue of paramount importance to them and their children: the process for filling a vacant board seat so they can have representation.
After following the first-come, first-serve rules established by the Board of Education, which entailed arriving many hours in advance to secure a place in line for a speaker card, parents were shocked and dismayed to find that other individuals could walk in at the start of the board meeting and be assured of a speaking spot.
To what do they owe that privilege?
The board’s decision to expand the number of speaking spots to 25, and its brief consideration of shortening the speaking time of the parents who had played by the rules to accommodate the last-minute speakers, made a mockery of the democratic process required by the Brown Act.
To be sure, we understand the occasional decision to allow one or two additional speakers. By agreeing to add more than two dozen speakers under the heightened political circumstances prevailing on Tuesday, the board threw a punch to the gut of the parents who followed the rules and waited in line. The process on all fronts demonstrated not only a flagrant disrespect for the parents whom they represent, but for the democratic process they have sworn to uphold.
As Board District 5 parent Raquel Toscano put it, “I felt very disrespected. It doesn’t seem right that parents have to wait in line or go to sleep there on the sidewalk overnight. And then someone supported by powerful employee special interest groups can just walk right in and get the best speaker slot and add any speakers who did not have to wait in line like I did.”
Leaving aside the disrespect and lack of fairness of Tuesday’s process, there is no good reason for the process to be so onerous on parents in general. We would like to propose some solutions that would guarantee that speakers on one side of an issue are not given preference:
- Make the process transparent, clear, and visible in advance of the board meetings and on the premises.
- Allocate an equal amount of time for speakers on both sides of each agenda item, assuring that speakers in favor of and against will have equal opportunity to present their positions. There is no limit to the number of speakers, only to the total time allotted. This is the approach followed by the LA County Board of Education, where I served for seven years.
- Allocate an equal number of speaking slots to both sides of each agenda item, with time limits on each speaker.
- Stick to the same rules for all parties. If time limits are altered in a given situation, only do so with the consent of the speakers.
Parents have appeared before the board regularly for months to demand that their voices be heard and respected. The board’s actions on Tuesday demonstrated in the most undisguised fashion yet that board members’ encouraging responses to parents have been nothing more than words. It’s time for the LAUSD Board of Education to demonstrate its commitment to families with deeds.
You can begin by reforming this simple process of public comment.
Katie Braude, executive director of Speak UP