CARMEL — Some Carmel Clay School Board meetings have gotten heated in recent months. Parents have vocalized their opposition to the school mask mandate, and some have come in protest of the district’s recent diversity and inclusion initiatives.
The superintendent says because of recent events at school board meetings, public comment has been temporarily suspended.
“We’ve had some previous struggles with public comment here recently and we also had a situation where we had a pretty volatile crowd and a handgun was dropped onto the floor,” Dr. Michael Beresford said. “It was a real scary moment. So, we just needed some time for everyone take a deep breath and calm down.”
“They were being harassed and not just in the meeting,” said Courtney Culver, a parent and member of “Keep Carmel Inclusive." “What I think is most troublesome was the harassment teachers and specific board members were getting at their home, on social media, and in public. They were having to leave in pairs from the school board meetings when it was dark. So I 100% understand it.”
Not everyone agrees, though, with the district’s decision to suspend public comment or its decision to move the monthly meeting from 7 p.m. to 8 a.m.
“I feel as if the school board is not hearing the parents," said Julie Nottingham, another parent. “They have completely taken away our freedom of speech. They don’t care what we think, they don’t care what we say, they don’t care how we feel and that has been blatantly stated to teachers, to parents everywhere in our school. And it’s wrong.”
Despite the time change, it was still a packed house with every seat filled. No signs or banners were allowed in, nor was a man’s bullhorn, he says. Mike Smith showed up to protest the suspension of public comment.
“Moving the school board meeting to working times, not allowing public comment, and some other things happening in the school aren’t on the up and up,” Smith said. “Parents are not being allowed to have their voice heard and are not being told exactly what’s happening at school.”
“They are voted in," Nottingham said. “We pay their salary. We are the ones that are responsible for our children and we have a say. They need to listen and hear the parents and the people.”
The superintendent said the decision to move the school board meeting to 8 a.m. was because they had a short agenda, and with no public comment, it was more efficient, according to Beresford.
“No matter what we decide, somebody’s going to be mad and somebody’s going to be happy," Beresford added. “So, that’s kind of the place school boards and superintendents are in right now.”
“I’m here just because I want to support them,” said Gloria Sachdev, a parent. “They’ve received a lot of hate over the past several school board meetings and it’s unfortunate. They’re just trying to do their job.”
Beresford says schools are having to make some tough decisions during this time.
“I will say that it does seem odd that school people are supposed to be making medical decisions,” Beresford said.
And his priority remains keeping kids in school.
“We will take any measure we can to keep them in school every day,” he said. “So, whether it’s masks or all the other different topics that kick up, we are always caught in the middle.”
Indiana state law requires school board meetings to be open to the public, but they are not required to allow time for public comment. Beresford said they will bring public comment back, but did not give a specific date when.