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VB School Board recommends changes on conducting meetings and handling disruptions

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Posted at 10:57 PM, Sep 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-01 23:12:50-04

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – The Virginia Beach School Board held a special meeting Wednesday night on how to conduct meetings. The board discussed how to efficiently handle the business of the school district so that meetings don’t drag on into the contentious, marathon meetings as they’ve come to be known.

The special meeting comes after a couple parents had to be escorted out of recent board meetings after outbursts.

“We’re not pin cushions,” said At-large Board Member Dottie Holtz. “We should not be subjected to abuse.”

Board members discussed how to deal with disruptions and cut down on the length of the meetings that’ve been known to go until the early morning hours.

“When you're talking about 11 o'clock, midnight, one o'clock A.M. and across the whole spectrum of stakeholders, there are just a lot of working people who have to get up early for work or parents who have to get up early for their own job or for their children's jobs,” said Virginia Beach School Board Chair Carolyn Rye. “We're just trying to be realistic about what's the proper time to end a meeting and then still do the responsible thing and welcome the public input and yet do the business of the board.”

The board recommended three proposals to help end meetings sooner, including cutting down on speaker time from four minutes to three; taking a break during the comment period - rather than hearing all the speakers at one time – so members can vote on pressing matters; and lastly, they spoke about whether or not to combine non-agenda and agenda items.

Parent Annie Palumbo doesn’t agree with limiting a speaker’s time.

“There’s so many issues right now that parents are passionate [about] – masks, critical race theory and the transgender stuff,” Palumbo said.

Palumbo showed News 3 a letter she recently received from the board claiming she was speaking out of turn, yelling and being disruptive and warning she could be excluded from future meetings. But Palumbo disputes that.

“I did not curse,” she said. “I did not say anything mean - other than the truth - so they didn't like the tone of voice, and they didn't like the truth. They try to silence me and scare me with a letter, and it's not going to work because the more they turn down the volume, the more I turn it up, and my gas pedal is to the floor right now.”

School Board Member Carolyn Weems does not believe sending warning letters is effective.

“I wish everyone could be civil,” said Weems. “People are passionate. They’re ramped up and don’t think we’re listening, but warning letters are only going to get them more upset, and I hope we won’t continue that practice of sending out warning letters.”

Board Chair Carolyn Rye said, “There is a responsibility about decorum and the conduct of meetings. These matters are not taken lightly, and we hope to not have this issue moving forward, frankly.”

The school district’s policy committee will be reviewing the proposals, and it's possible the school board could take a vote on some of the changes in the next several weeks.