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CPS Adds Hurdles to Making Public Comments at Board Meetings

By Ted Cox | January 14, 2013 2:54pm
 Bridgeport parent Jennie Biggs makes a public comment at the December Board of Education meeting.
Bridgeport parent Jennie Biggs makes a public comment at the December Board of Education meeting.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

CHICAGO — The school board imposed a new, more restrictive policy on public comment Monday that critics said could limit debate at the meetings.

Effective for the Chicago Public Schools' Board of Education monthly meeting set for Jan. 23, anyone wishing to make a public comment must register online, by phone or in person the week before.

The registration period opened Monday and runs through 5 p.m. Thursday at the latest. Only 60 slots are open for the scheduled two hours of public comment, and 33 were taken right away Monday morning.

CPS has gradually imposed the pre-registration requirement. It introduced advanced online and phone registration in November, but still allowed those wishing to make public comments to register the day of the meeting for any available slots through December. Day-of registration was no longer available beginning this year.

CPS spokeswoman Robyn Ziegler insisted the policy was not designed to limit debate.

"This policy actually makes public comment much more accessible by allowing individuals to sign up in advance," Ziegler said. "There is no change to the amount of time allotted for public participation — two minutes per speaker for two hours.

"The change was made by the board in response to those who communicated the old policy made it impossible for them to participate," she added. Previously, those wishing to speak at a meeting had to show up at the Central Office site of board meetings early in the morning and hours in advance in order to sign up.

CPS officials did not say why they chose to cut off registration a week in advance of the meetings.

But critics said the change makes it harder to participate.

"This new process alienates most people," said Katelyn Johnson, executive director of the community organization Action Now. "The board meetings were already ridiculously inaccessible, with people sometimes having to sleep over in order to get a chance to speak. This is on top of the fact that they are held downtown during hours when most people are at work. Having online registration adds another hoop to jump through, creating more distance between the already out-of-touch board and the community, parents and students."

Since most parents and community members have to work during the day, "they're only allowing one side of the debate," Johnson added.

While explaining the policy, the CPS website showing the schedule for meetings does not immediately link to the page where one can register for public comment.

Those wishing to register for public comment can also call (773) 553-1600 or register in person at the CPS Central Administration Building on the Sixth Floor of 125 S. Clark St.