There are 174 school districts in Kentucky. Each district can set their own procedures for how their school board meeting runs. Bobby Stinnett has children in the Montgomery County school system. Lately, he's been showing up to the monthly school board meetings. In order to speak, you are asked to sign a procedure. The procedure states, in part, that speakers will not be allowed to make any disparaging or critical remarks about individuals or employees of the district.
"It restricts the speech. Praise us all you want, but you can not be critical," Stinnett said.
A check with the Kentucky School Board Association shows twelve other districts in the state have similar procedures and policies. "To me it's common sense. You can't grant someone the authority to speak and then tell them they are not allowed to be critical," Stinnett said.
Stinnett took his concerns to the September school board meeting. He said the procedure's wording is a violation of his right to free speech.
WKYT sat down with Superintendent Josh Powell this week. "They've always been able to say whatever they want to say," he explained about speakers at board meetings. Powell said the procedure is never actually enforced during board meetings. Even though a person signs a piece of paper agreeing to it in order to speak.
Powell said, "Our school board has never followed this policy." But he said he keeps it in place as a backup. And recently that backup, he said, has been needed.
"We welcome criticism, we'd had it forever. We don't prevent that in any way. But when you harass someone, it's a different story," Powell said. He said the criticism at meetings has spiraled out of control, into harrassment. Much following a state audit claiming some questionable spending in the district.
"Some people have gone up there and made accusations and stuff like that," Stinnett agreed. Superintendent Powell said Stinnett has not made accusations, but said he has been critical--especially of a procedure Powell said is never used, and Stinnett says shouldn't be in writing in the first place.
Stinnett is currently running for city council in Mt. Sterling.