LPS board reduces public comment time; critics say it’s an attack on free speech 

LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) – The Lincoln Public Schools board voted to cut down on its public comment time Monday.

Instead of five minutes, every person will now get three. And not everyone is happy about it.

Around a dozen people showed up at the district office Monday to protest the new policy. Some say this is a limit on their First Amendment right.

“Our freedoms are being silently reduced, so we want to stand for freedom, freedom of speech, but then also, freedom to ask questions,” Victoria Riis, a future LPS mother, said. “So it’s not a 5 or 3-minute issue; it’s the muzzling of free speech.”

LPS said this process started last year based on the changes the Legislature was looking at making for public comment and the attorney general’s opinion on open meetings.

Three minutes for public comment is the average time for school boards across the state.

The change will also allow the school board to hear more people in a shorter amount of time.

Since COVID-19, the board has used an overflow room because of how many have shown up.

“We really like hearing from people. It’s crucial to the work we do. we’re elected representatives, and so the more people we can hear from, the better,” board member Don Mayhew said. “And so again, this is an effort to try and make things a little bit cleaner, a little bit easier, and a little bit more accessible to give more people a chance.”

Protesters say that this is an attack on those the school district disagrees with and that everyone should be concerned with a cut in their speech.

“Whether you’re conservative, or right or left, whether you’re a Democrat, independent or Republican, this affects us all,” Samuel Lyon said “And no matter what position you take on CRT or BLM or masks or whatever it is, you deserve to be heard. So when they remove it from 5 to 3 minutes, it is an attack on every one of us no matter what position you’re talking from at the mic.”

LPS said it is in no way eliminating public comment but is encouraging it and asking for those with concerns to reach out in other ways.

“Our school board meetings are not meetings with the public,” Mayhew said. “They’re meetings we have in public, and public comment is part of that, but that is not even really the best way or the only way to communicate with us.”

LPS encourages you to reach out to them via phone, email or the district’s “Let’s Talk” app.

The school board will monitor the new policy for the next year and revisit it as it would any policy.

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