School board talks public comment guidelines, third-option high school name
The West Linn-Wilsonville School Board deliberated about public comments, began the process for naming the new third-option high school and shared construction updates at a meeting Monday, Dec. 6.
During the consent agenda, Superintendent Dr. Kathy Ludwig proposed that the board adopt changes to policy HBDG, focusing on public comment.
"House Bill 2560 this year updated laws governing public attendance and comment at public meetings. … When public meetings are held and access is made available in person, the board must provide, to the extent reasonably possible, an opportunity to access and attend meetings by telephone video or other electronic or virtual means," Ludwig said.
The policy change would allow in-person testimonials are allowed during a board meeting, community members can submit public comments, such as video messages, electronically. If written testimony is allowed, people can submit statements through email. Before, only written comment or in-person public comment was allowed at board meetings.
"Some may say that our year of being in the pandemic and having Zoom meetings opened up the reality that we now have the technology that allows for … feedback from the community and being able to participate electronically," Ludwig noted.
Ludwig said the updated policy would give more opportunities to community members who join the board meetings remotely, especially those with disabilities.
"This is not about limiting (community members), but actually extending the opportunity for folks to provide public comment in a variety of ways," she said.
Ludwig's proposal prompted a lengthy conversation about further changes to the policy.
"I move that we adopt Policy BDDH, as amended with a strike of point number one," board chair Chelsea King said.
The first point of the policy states: "As an organization centered around youth and their positive development, all speakers will model respectful public comment and be mindful of civil discourse."
King said she "wholeheartedly believes" the first point is what the district strives for; however, her concern was that once it was embedded in policy, anybody could accuse the school board of violating the policy.
"Should anybody deem that we violated that policy, then we can be held accountable for violating our own policy," said King. "So my preference is rather than embed that expectation into policy, that we continue to follow the guidelines we put into place."
King also touched on the fifth proposed policy point, which says community members "may comment on any topic," during public comment periods. She pointed to other school boards' efforts to keep public commenters from straying from the proscribed agenda.
"Maybe that's something this board wants to consider, so that we don't have people speaking about whatever they want. But we're really focused on the agenda," King said. "However, my inclination is to leave it as it is, because there is such a desire from the public to have access to their local government and leaving it open seems to fit the spirit of that."
Board member Kelly Sloop inquired about the ninth point that states the school board may conduct a meeting without public comment.
"I feel like we are going backwards if we take that option away from our community," Sloop said.
Ludwig said that in the case of a board meeting not deliberating an action or a special board meeting that is called within the 24-hour notice period, public comment may not be an option.
The board mulled over language that does not "mute" community members from speaking at meetings.
Ludwig declared the policy a first reading, and the board will revisit the topic at its Jan. 10 meeting. She also said the district's attorney team will draft a new policy that highlights what meetings public comment are allowed at.
Returning to Chair King's proposal, board member Louis Taylor suggested adding a statement in Policy BDHH that specifies comments must stay relevant to the district at certain meetings.
"I don't think that we should censor what people want to talk about … but it does hinder progression of trying to do real work when people feel the crowd talking about things that are not pertinent to our school district or for our community," said Taylor. "My example would be people that come from far away to preach about things that they're trying to fix far away. That gets old. It gives three minutes to a soapbox rant on something that has nothing to do with our community."
Taylor said this is not to disrespect other communities advocating for causes related to their school districts.
"I just want to focus on the families and our community members within our area, and try to find solutions for those problems," he said.
Ludwig said the district legal counsel would draft some sample language pertaining to non-residents speaking at board meetings and public comments staying on topic with the agenda.
Community to brainstorm new high school name
Assistant Superintendent Dr. Jennifer Spencer-Iiams announced the official outline for community members to help name the third-option high school.
The board is tasked with selecting the final name for the secondary school during a Feb. 28, 2022, work session.
The district recommends that community members suggest "aspirational names" that do not involve community members or historic figures. Spencer-Iiams explained that recently, schools across the nation have been changing their names because perceptions of historical figures "may shift over time."
The district will hold information sessions at the high schools and middle schools to "connect with young people" and get students involved in generating name ideas.
"That'll be an opportunity to learn more about them, generate some good ideas, get kids involved and make sure we're hearing from multiple voices," Spencer-Iiams said.
Community members can submit name suggestions to an online survey found on the school district's website.
Capital bond updates
Kim Jordan, a long-range planning committee member, announced updates to the district's capital bond.
Jordan said the national supply chain issues continue to plague the district, and contractors experienced some shortages in things like plastic liners, shifting some timelines for construction at West Linn High School.
Jordan also said construction of the new Athey Creek Middle School on Dollar Street is progressing.
She harvested timber on the property would either be sold to outsourced companies, with the money going back to the district, or that some of the trees would be repurposed. The district hopes that it will connect the community "to the land where the school sits," said Jordan.
Jordan also announced some new facility improvements like the model for gender-neutral bathrooms.
"We believe we came up with a model for schools going forward, not just in Oregon, but nationwide. This is a solution that students are happy with, parents are happy with and the school staff is very happy with," Jordan said. "And they look beautiful."
The gender-neutral bathrooms are designed so each student has their own enclosed stall. The sinks are in an open area.
During the consent agenda, the board also mulled over language updates in several policies, including Policy AC, 'Non-discrimination,' which states that discrimination of any kind will not occur to anybody in the school district. The policy received minor tweaks to the language, like making gender identity more clearly stated. The board approved the changes.
The board also motioned for updates to policy ACB, 'Every Student Belongs,' which outlines the prohibition of hate symbols and addressing bias incidents so it's more aligned with wording in the statewide legislation that prompted the change.
Words like 'ethnicity' and 'age' were removed from the board's policy outline.
"(Removing these words) does not imply that we think it's okay to discriminate based on ethnicity and age. But it's simply because the legislative language did not include those two categories," Superintendent Dr. Kathy Ludwig said.
Recognition of inclusion
The board recognized the Wilsonville Alliance for Inclusive Communities for its efforts to make the city a more inclusive place for all citizens.
"As the Wilsonville Alliance, you strive to ensure welcoming spaces and places in our neighborhood for all members to feel a sense of belonging. Together you send a strong message that everyone is welcome," said Vice Chair Christy Thompson. The board gave the alliance a plaque.
The next board meeting will be held Jan. 10.
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