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Parents able to speak freely at Board of Education meetings?

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BOE Vice-Chairman Worth Forbes BOE Vice-Chairman Worth Forbes
GREENVILLE, N.C. -

Could parents soon be allowed to say more during board of education meetings?

Right now, they're somewhat muzzled when it comes to speaking their minds.
     
It's Monday night's topic of conversation at the board meeting in Pitt County.

A lot of it echoes back to the Maleek Gorham case.  He was a D.H. Conley student athlete who was suspended from play.
     
That was back in October and a lot of parents came to the board meeting to speak out against it, only to find they couldn't.

There is no specific law that says the public cannot speak openly during public opinion, meaning the current policy that acts as a guideline to Pitt County School Board is one they put into place.

Interim board attorney Ken Soo said some districts do not have these kinds of policies but warned altering the current policy could open the door to offensive or defamatory comments.

Tonight, members of the board are going to discuss how they might be able to loosen those restrictions allowing parents to speak more freely.

"The public doesn't get to hear that these kids are being treated differently in the exact same situation," said David Sutton, Sutton Law Office.

During their meeting Monday night, most board members agreed a previous meeting involving Maleek Gorham and student athlete eligibility did not go smoothly.

"We so tied our own hands on what we can and cannot say, it got so frustrating and they say ‘what's the use of public comment' and once we get to that point we're out of whack," said Benjie Forrest, Pitt County Board of Education Member.

Vice Chairman Worth Forbes and other members push the policy committee on the options available to allow parents and members of the community to speak freely during public expression.

"It's a shame because we did not allow the public to express any of their concerns what so ever.  They had no chance," said Forbes.

Chairman Mark Whichard agreed loosening the policy would keep the board from feeling like their hands are tied during situations like Maleek Gorham but emphasized a grievance process already in place that.

"My ultimate concern is I do not want people stood up publicly and having tomatoes and stones thrown at them in terms of some sort of bashing," said Whichard.

Superintendent Beverly Emory did point out if the grievance process was followed the person with the complaint would end up in front of the board to give their opinion.

Monday night's meeting was a first reading of some of those potential changes to their public expression policy.

The policy committee will now take what was said tonight and prepare a second reading that will go before the board during a future reading.

In closing, both Forbes and Forrest requested the policy committee also look into lowering the amount of money superintendents can spend without board approve.

An investigation done by 9 On Your Side found Pitt County superintendents can spend up to $90,000 without the need for board approval.

Both policy changes will be readdressed during future board of education meetings.

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