The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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August 17, 2013

Student-driven group wants to see changes in Joplin board policy

JOPLIN, Mo. — A group of Joplin High School students hope to change the way the public interacts with the Board of Education at its monthly meetings.

The group, Advocates for Joplin Schools, met Friday night in downtown Joplin to discuss their issues with a dozen people present.

Joplin designates a portion of each meeting for public comments. Individuals wishing to address the board are permitted to speak once for a limited amount of time and only to discuss items from the posted agenda, according to the policy.

Members of the public also can request that an item be placed on the agenda. Under the policy, written requests must be submitted to the superintendent. The board also can restrict the number of items to be considered, the number of people speaking on each issue and the amount of time given to the issue. Policy also allows the board to refuse to address an issue “that has not gone through the appropriate grievance procedure.”

Evan Blue, a Joplin High School junior and one of the organizers of the group, said the policies are too restrictive and don’t give the public an easy way to address concerns with the board.

“Our primary concern is that we can’t speak about issues without prior approval (from the board),” he said.

The students have started an online and paper petition drive seeking removal of “unfair requirements to address the board.” The online petition can be found at www.change.org/petitions/joplin-schools-board-of-education-remove-unfair-requirements-to-address-the-board.

Other students involved in the effort include Rylee Hartwell, Laela Zaidi and Emma Claybrook, all high school students. Hartwell and Zaidi earlier this year had started a blog called “Joplin Schools Watch” that has since become inactive. They said Friday night that they hope to create a new website for the group.

Blue said on Friday that the group had about 480 signatures and was seeking 1,000 signatures before presenting the petition to the board at its September meeting.

Board President Jeff Flowers said Saturday that board members are available to the public to hear concerns and comments, noting that email addresses and phone numbers for all seven board members are listed on the district’s website.

Flowers also said district policy encourages a “chain of command” for people to follow if they have complaints or issues to address, starting with the “lowest denomination” and the entities directly involved in the issue and working up to the administration and then the school board.

While individuals can ask to be put on the agenda, Flowers likened monthly board meetings to a business meeting.

“We’re there to conduct the schools’ business,” he said.

Other local school boards have similar policies. Neosho, in particular, has nearly exactly the same policies in place for public participation as Joplin.

Webb City policy limits public comments at board meetings and encourages residents to address issues with their school or administration before bringing them to the board. Individuals can also request that items be placed on the agenda.

Carl Junction, Carthage and Lamar policies don’t explicitly allow for public comments during board meetings, although members of the public can request that items be placed on the agenda for discussion.

Most district policies come from the Missouri School Boards’ Association, an advisory group.

“We come up with our best thinking from our policy department on model school district policies,” spokesman Brent Ghan said. “Sometimes we come up with different versions. We send out samples and recommendations to school boards.”

Ghan said boards can adopt their recommended policies, change them or discard them. Some districts, he said, develop their own policies and simply use the association for legal guidance to ensure they’re in compliance with the law.

“We have no authority to require a school board to do anything,” he said.

The next meeting of the Joplin Board of Education will be Tuesday, Aug. 27.

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