Terrebonne School Board members discuss revising process for public to voice concerns, to look into livestreaming meetings

LDH: 118,120 presumed recovered; 778 new cases reported
August 19, 2020
Terrebonne Booking Log: 08/19/2020
August 19, 2020
LDH: 118,120 presumed recovered; 778 new cases reported
August 19, 2020
Terrebonne Booking Log: 08/19/2020
August 19, 2020

At the Terrebonne Parish School District’s (TPSD) Education, Technology and Policy Committee meeting yesterday evening, school board members discussed revising the process for how members of the public are able to voice their concerns at Terrebonne Parish School Board meetings.


School board member Michael LaGarde, who proposed the agenda item, called the current process “outdated” and said he’s heard “horror stories” about the process. 


“We need a new system to have people come and speak. We are a public board,” he said. “…If they want to walk in here right now, I would let them speak.” 


LaGarde emphasized that the length of the process is too long and noted other local entities that don’t have such policies. 


According to the TPSD policy on Public Participation published on the District’s website, “To facilitate the conduct of its meetings, members of the public who wish to present any matter of concern at a Board meeting must give a minimum of five (5) days written notice to the Superintendent and said notice shall include the subject to be discussed. (Items to be placed on the agenda for Tuesday night meetings must be submitted by noon on Wednesday prior to the meetings).” 


“A public comment period shall be held before any vote is taken on an agenda item,” the policy reads. 


LaGarde also brought up a situation that happened at the school board meeting on August 4, when Malory Solet, a 16-year-old honor student at Ellender Memorial High School, advocated for honors courses on the online platform, which was not being offered at the time. 


But before Solet could speak, the Board had to pass a unanimous motion for her to voice her concerns as it wasn’t on the agenda and she didn’t go through the proper procedure. 


Debi Benoit, Board President, said she received public complaints that they broke board policy. “And because we have a current board policy that says that you need to do these procedures before, we can’t let that happen again, unless you do change it,” she continued. “So that’s my fault, and it won’t happen again.” 


Benoit said she believes that their policy is in-line with what the Louisiana School Boards Association (LSBA), the Board’s attorney and Robert’s Rules of Order recommend. 


Benoit said they need to look into it further and investigate other boards that are doing it differently before moving forward. 


Board member Matthew Ford responded to Benoit’s sentiments. 


“…This is the Terrebonne Parish School Board; I could care less what any other district in this state is doing. I want to hear from my constituency,” he said. “Secondly, I got 10 compliments to your [Benoit’s] two or three complaints. There’s always going to be someone out there complaining.” 


Ford went to say he doesn’t have an opinion about LSBA, “but sometimes it’s time to change.” 


“I think right now might be one of those times,” he continued. “If LSBA can’t get behind us, so be it.” 


Ford added that these are one of those changes the public can get behind. 


Board member Gregory Harding addressed the room after Ford, highlighting that the Board didn’t break policy by allowing Solet to speak but instead deviated from it, which required a unanimous vote. He also agreed with Benoit that the Board needs to investigate public comment policy more before making any decisions. Harding also expressed that the Board should be as transparent as it possibly can with the community. 


Board members agreed to refer the matter to the next committee meeting after more information was gathered.  


Another item on the agenda pertained to video/livestreaming school board meetings, which was also proposed by LaGarde.


LaGarde said a lot of other school boards host their meetings online and citizens are looking for better ways of virtual communication beyond emailing, such as something similar to a message board. ”I think we should come up with some modern-day technology to get our meetings out there,” he added. 


Benoit said the Board has looked into it before, but the cost was “real prohibitive.” However, she said there are new, less expensive options available, such as going live on Facebook. 


Locally, Terrebonne Parish Council, Lafourche Parish Council and Lafourche Parish School Board meetings are all livestreamed on Facebook. 


Harding said that livestreaming the meetings is no different than what the Board has done previously — whether it was having earlier meetings or other changes — to be more accommodating to the public. 


He also added that the Board should always try to improve.


“When you leave this establishment, you don’t want to be doing the same thing that you’ve been doing for 20 years,” Harding continued. “You want to have some type of change.”


Board members discussed the logistics of livestreaming and agreed to move the discussion to the next committee meeting after TPSD staff looks into the matter further.