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San Diego Unified Board to consider code of conduct to curtail hate speech

Posted at 10:59 AM, Dec 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-13 13:59:34-05

SAN DIEGO (CNS) - The San Diego Unified School District Board of Education Tuesday will consider adopting a set of rules for debates and public comment periods at its board meetings in response to a rise in hate speech and unruly behavior at public meetings both locally and nationally.

The board will consider the Code of Civil Discourse, authored by the National Conflict Resolution Center, at its Tuesday meeting.

Most often the unruly or vitriolic speech is made in response to hot-button topics such as vaccine mandates and the mistaken belief schools are teaching critical race theory, officials said.

"It's so important for every public agency to model civility and respect at this point in our nation's history, but school boards need to always remember that the way we conduct ourselves sets a model for our students," San Diego Unified School Board President Richard Barrera said in a statement. "We are grateful that National Conflict Resolution Center, our longtime partner, is taking a leadership role in advocating that public meetings throughout San Diego county are conducted in a way that allows honest, open, and respectful dialogue -- even when and especially when we disagree with each other.

According to a district statement, hate speech and disorderly conduct at public meetings have become a major problem for local government bodies nationwide -- and it has reduced public officials' ability to do their jobs and serve their communities effectively.

The Code of Civil Discourse, which was first established by the National Conflict Resolution Center in 2015, is intended to serve "as a guide for facilitating civil, respectful discussions of opposing views during public meetings."

"Our democracy depends on our ability as Americans to have civil discussions that constructively air different points of view," according to Steven Dinkin, president of the National Conflict Resolution Center, which is based in San Diego. "Without this, our elected leaders cannot get things done, and our communities suffer.

"However, when ground rules are established and adhered to, it is possible to express views on polarizing topics in a civil, respectful manner and work toward solutions that benefit all involved," Dinkin said. "The Code of Civil Discourse is intended to encourage productive conversations about policy issues, no matter how strongly-held the views are on either side, while still respecting all participants' First Amendment rights."

Last month, in response to a contentious meeting in which some members of the public used racist and threatening language, the county Board of Supervisors approved the same code.

The change for that body added a series of policies, including:

  • Reading a statement on the county's policy regarding discrimination and harassment into the record during the meeting;
  • Prohibiting disruptive conduct, including but not limited to loud or threatening language, whistling, clapping, stamping of feet, speaking over or interrupting the recognized speaker;
  • Creating parameters for group presentations allowing them only to be given for land use or adjudicatory matters as well as a maximum time period of four minutes for individual members of each group within the 10-minute maximum;
  • Limiting public comment to one minute per person if there are more than 10 individuals wishing to comment, under the Brown Act;
  • Adopting a consent calendar for routine or administrative items for which debate is not anticipated;
  • Asking members of the public to bring their own technology to provide presentations; and
  • Codifying continued allowance of remote participation by the public to participate in board meetings.

Earlier this year, NCRC partnered with UC San Diego to form the Applied Research Center for Civility, the nation's first-ever research center "dedicated to conflict resolution, civility and bridging political divides," according to a statement from the center.