Local News

Controversial Policy Comes To Forefront During Durham School Board Meeting

Posted September 30, 2005 10:08 a.m. EDT

— The much debated and much criticized public comment policy took center stage at the Durham school board meeting on Thursday night.

Gail Heath, chair of the

Durham Public Schools Board of Education

, began the meeting by stating: "Physical violence or threats of physical violence are prohibited. As presiding officer, I have the responsibility to ensure that our meetings are orderly, efficient and dignified."

But a source of contention during the meeting was a procedure that limits the timeframe for open public comments as well as the number of agenda items the public can comment on.

Watch School Board Meeting on the WRAL NewsChannel! Friday 2 p.m., 8 p.m., Saturday 6:30 p.m.

Board member Jackie Wagstaff said the practice violates policy.

"Are we just amending the public policy, the public comment procedure, to include those new practices?" Wagstaff asked. "Or are we just sitting here, coming up with stuff right now off the top of our heads?"

About 20 people rallied outside of the building where the meeting was held before the meeting began. They claimed the public comment policy violated their civil rights.

In April, three people were arrested while protesting the new rules during a meeting.

All three were later found not guilty on charges ranging from trespassing to inciting a riot.

They also attended Thursday night's meeting and demanded an apology from the school board and the Durham County Sheriff's Office. There was no word on whether the school board or sheriff's office would issue an apology.

Sheryl Smith, one of the three who was arrested in April, spoke during the meeting and directed her words toward Heath.

"I am charging you with false imprisonment, Fourth Amendment, and illegal seizure for having me handcuffed and arrested at the last school board meeting," Smith said.

Two people were asked to leave during Thursday night's meeting, and they left peacefully.


Ken Smith


Mark Simpson