UPDATE: The school district provided a statement on Thursday. It has been added to the bottom of this story.
LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — The Clark County School Board of Trustees has developed a habit of putting off important votes until the crowd thins out, causing Nevada lawmakers to take notice.
Legislation that was heard before the Senate Education Committee on Thursday seeks to put an end to the practice, which can happen when meetings run late. In recent years, that’s been pretty common as political infighting and truly controversial topics have stretched meetings into the wee hours.
While testimony from the public indicated the problem isn’t limited to the Clark County School District (CCSD), that’s what Assemblywoman Selena Torres (D-Las Vegas) had on her mind when she crafted Assembly Bill 423 (AB423).
“In recent years, school board meetings have become increasingly contentious, attracting a lot of public comment and meetings often continue well into the next morning. Oftentimes, tempers are hot and patience is thin late into the night, and that is not a recipe of good education policy,” Torres said.
“Many parents bring their children to these meetings, where they’re sometimes sleeping on the floor during the final hours of the meeting. This needs to stop,” she said. Torres is a high school teacher.
Agenda changes that moved controversies to the end of the meeting had the effect of limiting participation as parents and students just couldn’t stay to have their voices heard.
AB423 seeks to prohibit votes that happen after midnight, requiring school boards to reschedule votes to hours when the public can watch what elected officials are deciding. The board must reschedule for a future meeting, or reconvene at a time that’s at least 24 hours after the originally scheduled meeting — and within three days of that meeting.
The bill has already won unanimous approval in the Assembly, and needs approval in the Senate committee and from the full Senate before it can be sent to Gov. Joe Lombardo for a signature.
The bulk of the debate on AB423 on Wednesday involved concerns that school boards were simply shutting down debate. Sen. Dina Neal (D-Las Vegas) and Sen. Scott Hammond (R-Las Vegas) expressed concerns over language about “willfully disruptive” behavior, and who had the job of deciding who should speak and who should be thrown out.
Torres said, “This language exists because in a Southern Nevada school board meeting, we had students testify that were English-language learners and members of the public came in and bullied students. And they were not removed from the meeting.”
It’s not the only incident she knew about.
“This language exists because you have teachers that have come up to testify in public comment that have been followed by parents personally attacking them,” Torres said.
Torres assured her fellow lawmakers that the language was identical to phrasing used in other laws on public comment.
The school district provided this statement on Thursday:
“All CCSD public meetings are conducted according to Nevada Open Meeting Law and the First Amendment. CCSD board meetings vary in length due to the number of agenda items included and the public interest and participation in those items. Despite inaccuracies conveyed during the hearing or reported by media outlets, only three board meetings adjourned after midnight (09/01/21 – 10/28/21 – 11/18/21) in the last two years. Each of those meetings included issues of considerable public interest which resulted in public comment extending the length of the meeting, not the board delaying votes on agenda items. The vast majority of board meetings in the previous two years adjourned in under three hours or before 8 PM.”