Riverhead Board of Education holds off on plan to change rules for public comment during meetings

Calling it a misunderstanding, the Riverhead Board of Education voted Tuesday to table any action on a proposed amendment to its policy regarding public comments at meetings.

Under the revised policy, the board had been considering eliminating a portion of live commentary traditionally heard during Board of Education meetings.

“The public was misinterpreting what we were trying to do here,” Board of Education president Laurie Downs said during the Zoom meeting. “And there’s no reason to get everybody thinking that we’re doing something that we’re not.”

The revision would have required questions and comments on agenda items to be submitted in writing to the district clerk at the start of the meeting. The clerk would then read the questions aloud.

Comments and questions addressed to the Board of Education president on non-agenda items would still be permitted as usual, according to a draft of the policy.

A first reading of the policy was adopted unanimously at a Board of Education meeting Sept. 8. Two readings of proposed policy changes are required, as well as a chance for public input on the change, before the board can enact it.

The reversal comes as district officials announced they are planning to return to holding in-person meetings next month. According to officials, capacity is limited to 50 people, including board members, administrators and other district employees who typically attend the meetings.

“With only 50 people allowed — not that I think we’ve ever had that — but in the event that we did, how is that going to be handled?” board member Therese Zuhoski asked.

Interim Superintendent Christine Tona said district security guards would likely enforce the guidelines and attendees, including the Board of Education, must wear masks and adhere to social distancing guidelines.

It’s unclear if temperature checks will be performed in order to access the auditorium, but Ms. Tona said specific protocols are still being finalized.

“It will have to be on a first come, first served basis,” she said.

In addition, the district’s IT staff will still continue to stream the meetings and post audio recordings. The district may also continue taking comments via a Google form, which began as meetings went virtual in March.

The next Board of Education meeting, expected to be held in person, is scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 13.