A local school district is limiting its public comment forum at school board meetings following an increased interest from the public to speak out about critical race theory.
District 196 — which consists of schools from Rosemount, Apple Valley, and Eagan — recently changed its policies on the open forum portion of its school board meetings.
The school board previously allowed five minutes per speaker and an unlimited number of people to voice their concerns at each monthly school board meeting. Now, the school board’s new policy allows a maximum of 10 speakers at each meeting and gives each speaker four minutes to address the school board.
They are also implementing hour-long, monthly “community listening sessions,” during which anyone can attend and speak, according to an announcement from the district. The listening sessions will be attended by up to three school board members.
In a livestream of the June 28 school board meeting, Chairperson Jackie Magnuson said the listening sessions will not be streamed online or made available for the general public to watch.
Several public commenters spoke to the new policy and shared concerns over the timing of its implementation.
“We keep getting more people coming to the meeting and more people talking. I don’t know if this is a time we really want to limit people coming in and talking when they’re showing interest,” one woman said.
In the past month, two public commenters from District 196 have gained attention on social media for their speeches against critical race theory. One was a 15-year-old student who said teaching CRT makes students “uncomfortable and tense.”
Another was a bakery owner who spoke out about critical race theory and Black Lives Matter rhetoric being taught in schools. She received intense backlash from activists who have called her “an awful excuse of a human being” and an “extremist.” Allegedly, a Burnsville grocery store pulled the woman’s bakery products from their shelves following her public speech.
District 196’s new policy states that the 10 “stakeholders” in the district who get to speak at each meeting will be drawn in a lottery. Anyone who wants to speak must sign up five days prior to the meeting and will be notified if their name has been chosen.
Many public commenters at the June 28 meeting took issue with the lottery format, fearing it won’t give equal access to “all voices.”
“Hopefully the 10 slots will be evenly dispersed throughout that lottery system,” one person said, indicating that he does not believe the system will work.
Another citizen asked about those who do not have easy access to email and if they will be able to sign up to speak, and yet another brought up a concern that if the lottery isn’t public, the school board could tamper with the results.
The school board reiterated the importance of the upcoming listening sessions, which will allow for more “dialogue” between parents and the school board and less “soundbites” from community members.
“The problem with the current thing is that we’re just hearing, we’re not responding,” said one school board member.