Cities and towns across Maine are not required to let the public speak at meetings of their councils, planning boards, and other governing bodies. But school boards are — and it’s a relatively recent requirement.

Former state Rep. Scott Cuddy, D-Winterport, introduced legislation in May 2019 to “provide the opportunity for the public to comment on school and education matters at a school board meeting.”

Cuddy had served on the school board of Hampden-based Regional School Unit 22 and was surprised to learn that other districts in Maine did not allow people to voice concerns to their elected representatives during public meetings. RSU 22 included public comment periods for as long as Cuddy could remember, including when his mother was on the board.

It’s the same district that, years later, has been sued for blocking free speech and catalyzed a model policy by the Maine School Management Association to ban praise and criticism of teachers at school board meetings across the state.

“There should be a period in which people can make comments,” Cuddy said in an interview. “In the bill, I wanted to be clear that the board chair still has to conduct the business of the meeting and could set rules about participation, common things like setting a time limit, to make sure the business of the board can get done.” 

The proposal received broad, but not unanimous, support from lawmakers.


The statewide teacher’s union — the Maine Education Association — backed it, but the Maine School Management Association did not.

“School boards and superintendents oppose this bill because we think it is unnecessary,” Victoria Wallack, a spokesperson for the organization, testified before lawmakers.

The group surveyed school districts statewide and said 94%, or 87 of the 91 that responded, regularly offered a public participation period during business meetings. There are 285 school districts in Maine. 

“The rules of engagement are to keep the discussions civil and orderly while giving all sides a chance to speak,” Wallack testified, referring to a sample policy. “Personal matters or complaints concerning staff or students are off limits and need to be handled confidentially. That’s where a strong chair is so essential.”

Boards could opt to add public comment times to specific agenda items, or an open-topic public comment period, she told legislators. “If a topic is so controversial or detailed, the board might want to consider a special meeting just to talk about a specific item,” Wallack said.

Cuddy said it should not be optional for boards to hear the concerns of their constituents. 

“I have a strong belief in the ability to address grievances to elected officials is a critical part of our democracy,” Cuddy said. “Whether or not you are saying something people like, you should have the ability to say it. There should be a period where people can make comments.” 

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