WWPS district office

Walla Walla school leaders have established new guidelines for public comment at virtual school board meetings after the previous rules drew recent criticism.

The district’s new procedures are posted online at ubne.ws/WWPSpubliccomment. The first opportunity residents will have to offer comments to the Walla Walla School Board using the new guidelines is at the Oct. 20 meeting.

One of the topics at that online meeting will be whether the district will advance to the “yellow” stage of its reopening plan. The move would transition students in kindergarten through second grade to face-to-face instruction using an a.m./p.m. hybrid schedule.

The board directed Superintendent Wade Smith to aim for a Oct. 26 transition to the yellow stage, as long as the district is meeting the target of 75 COVID-19 cases or fewer per 100,000 residents.

The district was not at this number at the last board meeting, in late September, but has since reached it.

Community members wishing to comment will have to send their letters to WWPS administrative assistant Susie Golden — at sgolden@wwps.org — by Oct. 14 for them to be included in the discussion.

Changes to the rules for public comments at board meetings came after four letters — all opposing schools reopening at the time — were read at the board’s Sept. 29 meeting. Later, it was revealed that these letters did not accurately represent the range of opinions the district had received.

Board President Sam Wells later said he believed submitted opinions on whether to reopen were actually split about 50/50.

He said the senders of the letters that were read all either followed procedures that the board had established or had specifically requested that the letters be included as public comment.

The procedures that he spoke of stated that the letters had to be sent to Golden by noon the day of the meeting. These guidelines could be found in the online agenda for the meeting.

The new procedures are being made more public. They were included in the Oct. 9 edition of the district’s “Week in Review” newsletter.

Letters submitted by Oct. 14 at 5 p.m. — six days before the meeting — will be made public record, posted to the district’s website and shared with the school board, all ahead of the Oct. 20 meeting. They will not be read at the meeting.

The new guidelines also state that public comments must include the resident’s name, address and contact information. Residents may also drop off comments at the District Office drop box, adjacent to the main entrance, at 364 S. Park St.

Jeremy Burnham can be reached at jeremyburnham@wwub.com or 509-551-8896.

Reporter

Jeremy Burnham covers education and Columbia County for the Union-Bulletin. He is a recent graduate of Eastern Washington University, where he studied journalism, and is an Eastern Eagle fanatic.