CARMEL, Ind – A Carmel Clay Schools Board meeting that started at 8 a.m. and included no public comment was finished around 8:10 a.m Monday.
Carmel police officers with metal detectors were on hand as roughly 40 citizens filed into the meeting at the Carmel Clay Schools Educational Services Center. Last week, Carmel Clay Schools officials announced the meeting time had been changed from 7 p.m. to 8 a.m., and public comments would not be allowed at the Monday morning meeting.
“To me, it tells me you don’t care what my opinion is or what I have to say about my children’s education and I find that appalling,” said Carmel Clay Schools parent Colleen Larkey. “It’s no coincidence that they made it a very short meeting to avoid the conflict and run out of here very quickly.”
Carmel Clay Schools Superintendent, Dr. Michael Beresford said the 8 a.m. start time reflected the short agenda with no significant policy items. The decision to suspend public comments from the meeting was the result of recent tension at meetings.
“We’ve had some struggles with public comment recently,” Beresford said. “We had a pretty volatile crowd and a handgun that was dropped onto the floor, a real scary moment.”
For months, tensions and public debate have been building over mask mandates, claims of Critical Race Theory being taught in schools and library books deemed by some as being sexually explicit and inappropriate for school children. Beresford said suspending public comments from today’s meeting was intended to discourage any further escalation.
“We just need some time to everybody take a deep breath and calm down,” he said. “We’re going to bring public comment back. It’s postponed. It’s not going to go away forever. But we need to take time out and relax and kind of pull things back together.”
Several parents said they agreed with the move.
“They have business that they have to attend to and if they open the meetings to people that are coming in there and talking about things that aren’t on the agenda, and getting belligerent, then they aren’t able to do the work that they’re supposed to do as a school board,” said Carmel Clay Schools parent Beth Sprunger.
“Given the harassment and the outbursts at previous meetings, it wasn’t surprising to me,” said Carmel Clay Schools parent Courtney Culver. “I really want to support the staff and the school board and make sure they feel safe and can conduct business as usual.”
“It is disappointing that the agenda did not include public comment,” said Carmel Clay Schools parent John Shapiro. “Based on what’s happened at the last couple school board meetings, however, it’s understandable.”
On the other side of the issue, some parents expressed frustration that public comments were not being allowed.
“They purposefully rescheduled the meeting for 7, 8 o’clock on a Monday morning so parents that have to go to work or take their children to school could not come,” Larkey said. “People are not going to agree all of the time. It needs to be discussed and brought out, and not avoided.”
“For some reason, they made it really short on a Monday morning and I put aside my responsibilities at home to come to the meeting and it only lasted ten minutes,” said Carmel Clay Schools parent Josefina Gunther. “They don’t want to have any input from the parents, and I think the parents, we are a huge key and we have a say so in our kids’ education.”
Beresford pointed out that he and board members are still taking public comments outside of school board meetings.
“We’re not short on public comment, I’ve got about 800 emails to show that we get plenty of public comment and the board does too,” he said. “No matter what we decide, somebody’s going to be mad and somebody’s going to be happy. So that’s kind of the place that superintendents and school boards are in right now.”
As of now, it’s not clear when public comments will be brought back to Carmel Clay School Board meetings.
“You know, when we get back into a more civil situation, then I think that will be a good sign for sure,” Beresford said.