Granite District encourages public comment at board meetings with prior sign upJun 14, 2021 11:04AM ● By Heather Lawrence
GSD board meetings, like this one from April 2021 showing Ben Horsley at the podium, are open for public comment by signing up ahead of time. (Granite School District)
By Heather Lawrence | [email protected]
The proceedings of a May 4 Granite School District Board of Education meeting made local headlines when a group of attendees wanted to talk about the mask mandate. Board meetings are open to the public; the board asks that people who want to contribute sign up ahead of time.
The district’s website states: “[We] hold public meetings once or twice monthly to…conduct business. Citizens are welcome to speak in a Board of Education meeting by contacting the communications office at 385-646-4529 to register for a comment time.”
Ben Horsley, communications director for GSD, was at the meeting. He said tensions in the meeting escalated when people who hadn’t signed up wanted to speak.
Video footage of the meeting shows interruptions, shouting and a declaration that the elected board was dismissed and new board members were being appointed on the spot.
“When it became clear that the board was not going to be able to conduct its business, the meeting was adjourned. [Thirty to 40 anti-mask] protesters remained…for a short time,” Horsley wrote in a social media post.
Horsley said the procedures in place for board meetings allow GSD to conduct necessary business while also hearing from members of the public. Adjourning meant the board did not get to discuss everything on the agenda.
“The board allows the first three patrons to sign up for non-agenda items at each general board meeting (monthly). People can visit our website and fill out some contact information by noon the day of the meeting,” Horsley said.
GSD’s website, www.graniteschools.org/board, has information on current board members, agendas, yearly meeting schedules, how to sign up to comment and the minutes of previous meetings.
“Those who wish to sign up for a specific agenda item can sign up to speak to those items as well. The same process applies,” Horsley said.
Horsley said even during the tightest days of pandemic restrictions, the board wanted to include the public. The June 16, 2020 meeting was streamed live and a sign up for residents was offered. The minutes for that meeting state “Citizen Participation: None,” meaning no one signed up to comment.
This year, the Jan. 5 and March 2 meetings also had no citizen participation. The bulk of April meetings were devoted to new staffing appointments. The Feb. 2 meeting had one participant from Taylorsville High—a student named Caitlin Bone.
Bone followed the meeting protocols for non-agenda comments. She introduced ideas for how students could safely participate in school dances. Her comments were covered by several local news sources, and many schools have safely held proms and other activities this spring.
Horsley said the three slots for the May 4 meeting were full and “masks were not on the agenda. The three individuals who [commented on other non-agenda items] had signed up in advance of the meeting.”
Members of the public who participate in meetings can expect to be heard, but some things are out of the board’s jurisdiction. Horsley said the mask mandate was a statewide health order and not something the district had the authority to repeal.
As it turned out, those frustrated by the mask mandate needed only wait a few days. On May 13, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox issued a statement repealing the mandate for the last week of school.
“While masks are still recommended and individuals may still choose to wear a mask, they will not be required for the last week of the school year (starting June 1),” Horsley said.
All testing protocols for GSD also end on that date. Masks will not be required for summer programs or the new school year in the fall, “unless a new statewide order is initiated.”
Board meetings continue over the summer and are scheduled for June 15, July 6 and Aug. 3. Agendas are available on the website. Anyone wishing to address the board for agenda or non-agenda items should register 24 hours in advance by calling 385-646-4529, or completing the “Comment Sign-up Form” on the website.