Committee reaches concensus on public comment, textbook policies


Second readings on board meeting procedures and textbook adoption policies passed the Williamson County Board of Education Policy Committee on Monday.

Second readings on board meeting procedures and textbook adoption policies passed the Williamson County Board of Education Policy Committee on Monday.

The six-member committee struggled with the language in Policy 1.403 – Board Meeting Agendas – pertaining to public comment, but agreed on a three-minute time limit for each citizen with guidelines on that timeframe set by the board chairman.

Committee members agreed to extend the 15 minutes of public comment to 30, with a provision that authority lies with the board chairman to extend that time.

An added line in the revised policy reads, “At the discretion of the chairperson, this [30 minutes] may be extended,” which school attorney Bill Squires clarified.

“The idea was that it not be like an alarm clock going off and that you can fudge time limit just a hair, not that you would extend it five hours or allow 20 more people to speak,” he said.

Squires advised against putting the chairman in a difficult position with the responsibility of deciding on a case-by-case basis to shorten time or cut speakers off.

The committee also revisited a line added to the policy on first reading stipulating that the board “may from time to time invite experts or other knowledgeable persons to provide informational presentations as part of the agenda.”

Board member Bobby Hullett questioned the vagueness of the term “knowledgeable persons” at the most recent board work session; the committee decided Monday to change “knowledgeable persons” to “subject matter experts.”

On committee/board member Beth Burgos’ suggestion, speakers will also no longer be required to state their addresses before they comment.

Policy committee also decided on a revision of Board Policy 4.401 – Textbook Selection and Adoption.

This school year, math instructional materials are up or adoption. Textbooks are adopted on six-year cycles, and they are vetted at the local level by multiple committees – this year about 20 – to review varying levels of math textbooks.

WCS will spend about $3 million on new books, excluding the cost of “growth” textbooks for students who enroll in the district throughout the year.

The committee agreed to omit a line that reads, “the superintendent and board members shall be ex officio members of all committees appointed, and shall not be a voting member.”

Burgos also recommended the policy state that committees will review instructional materials to determine if they are “free from bias.”

“It would be clear that we are looking for bias,” Burgos said. “It would reassure a lot of people to have it in our policy.”

State law that takes effect Jan. 1, 2015 was drafted on the heels of a conversation in which WCS played a part about perceived bias and inaccuracies in school textbooks. Part of the legislation requires that parents of students enrolled in the school district are incorporated into the review process.

Jessica Pace covers Williamson County, Williamson County Schools and the Town of Nolensville for Home Page Media Group. Contact her at jess@brentwoodhomepage.com or follow her on Twitter @Jess_NHP.

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