School Board Meeting Thursday, 9/20 at 5:30pm


The Huntsville City school board meeting will be tonight at 5:30pm at the Merts Center, 200 White Street, Huntsville. They will allow citizens’ comments.

Citizens’ comments are nearly the only time that a citizen can address the board and the superintendent on matters that concern them without interruption and without being censored, so long as you keep it under three minutes, don’t become repetitive, and don’t call into question the good name and character of anyone. (That rule doesn’t apply to the superintendent or the employees of the district by the way. Some employees think it their duty to call into question the good name and character of those who dare to question the Superintendent and his policies.)

But don’t let that dissuade you. It doesn’t hurt at all to be called names when you’re standing up for your children and their teachers. In fact, it’s kinda nice. It’s confirmation that they actually heard you.

While they will let you speak, they will typically not offer any response to your questions or comments.

Yes, I know that Mr. Blair’s “Preamble to Citizens’ Comments” claims that they will “study any issue raised” and get back to you, but they don’t really mean it. Not once have they ever gotten back to me on any issue I’ve raised during Citizens’ Comments.

However, there is no better way to make the board hear you. At least then the board members won’t be able to claim (as at least one was still doing yesterday) that they haven’t heard of any problems.

Astonishing, aren’t they?

If you would like to be placed on the list to speak, you must sign up to speak before the meeting starts. You may do so in two ways either by contacting the office of the Superintendent at 256-428-6810 and being asked to be placed on the Citizens’ Comments list. (Has anyone else noticed just how hard it is to get any actual contact information off the district’s website lately? Guess they don’t want you to call.) You will be asked your Name, the Group you represent, and the Purpose of your comments.

Alternately, you may simply show up for the meeting early (the doors typically open around 5:00pm), and sign in on the Citizens’ Comments sheet. That sheet is usually available in the hallway until about 5:15pm.

Oh, it is certainly possible that the superintendent will break out the metal detectors again. They brought them to the meetings back in May and June for a little while, and then decided that they weren’t necessary after all.

Just remember that the board and the district really appreciates hearing from you when you’re emptying your pockets for them.

It would be great to see a huge crowd there tomorrow night. If you see me (and yeah, I’ll be there barring an emergency), come up and say hi. I’ll be the guy sitting quietly, doing his best to intimidate no one, but tweeting away a record of the meeting. You may follow me on Twitter @russwinn or on the Geek Palaver Facebook Page.

If you can’t make it, you may watch on ETV on channels 17 (Comcast) or 99 (Knology) beginning at 5:30pm. The district often also streams the meeting on the web at on the district web site.

Come out and have fun with us as we listen to just how smashingly the digital initiative is clicking along now. I bet that by tomorrow night the network is operating at 150%.

"Children see magic because they look for it." --Christopher Moore, Lamb: The Gospel according to Biff, Jesus' childhood pal.


  1. It didn’t take long for us to lose one of our newly appointed principals (Huntsville High school principal resigns as of Nov. 1). Perhaps she was not in lock-step with the new regime? And did I read this morning that Wardynski’s transition director has been named as the replacement? I’ve got this fictional image of laptops goose-stepping through downtown as a tribute to our future.

    1. Yep. You read that correctly. Best way in this town to become a principal is to be his “transitional director” whatever that title is supposed to mean at this point.

      Since we have a Chief of Staff, why not call the transitional director what he is: Executive Officer.

      I wish your “fictional” image didn’t have such resonance.

  2. The preamble to the citizens’ comments time has some wording to the effect that you have to be nice in your comments. This is not legally legit, however. Other school systems have had to face up to their obligation to honor the First Amendment rights of citizens, e.g.:

    “A federal district court in California invalidated a school district bylaw that prohibited people at school board meetings from criticizing school district employees. In Leventhal v. Vista Unified School District (1997), the court wrote: “It seems clear that the Bylaw’s prohibition on criticism of District employees is a content-based regulation. … It is equally clear that the District’s concerns and interests in proscribing public commentary cannot outweigh the public’s fundamental right to engage in robust public discourse on school issues.”

    “Similarly, a federal district court in Virginia struck down a school board bylaw that prohibited personal attacks during public comments at meetings. (See Bach v. School Board of the City of Virginia Beach, 2001.)”


    Also, don’t be put off by the Group column on the sign-up sheet. It might suggest that you can only speak if you are representing a group, but that is nonsense.

    Your group: myself. Or my family.

  3. Don’t fool yourself, folks. First of all, the opinions of these extra-territorial district courts do not govern Alabama. Their opinions may *inform* a local court, but nothing requires a local court to follow these decisions. Secondly, the legality/illegality of the “be nice” provision is only relevant AFTER your speech has been restricted and you opt to go to court to dispute the restriction. It’s not like you can walk in there and wave the Constitution around and get anywhere. And the school board knows this. Unfortunately, you can follow their BS requirements and be *IN* the room, or stand on principle and likely be escorted *OUT.*

    1. True, but some slow night at the Board it would be fun to simply read these case summaries to the Board and inform them that every time they present that be nice policy as enforceable, they are standing on shaky ground. But of course, since their ethics start and stop with what we may call The Robinson Principle [what-we-must-be-doing-must-be-legal-since-we-aren’t-being-sued] this means they would have to be sued to do otherwise.

      Their own attorney JB Brooks certainly won’t advise them to leave off the be nice spiel, since if they are sued, his firm’s coffers increase. Round and round and round we go.

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