But they are banned from using any person’s name during their comments, including the names of the publicly elected school board members and Superintendent Jeff Moss.
That was the consensus among school board members who spent more than an hour at Saturday's board work session, discussing the rules that govern public participation during school board meetings.
Board members agreed to allow speakers to talk about any issue that falls under the domain of the school board, whether or not it appears on that evening's agenda. Only Earl Campbell abstained from voting on the issue.
Newly elected school board chairwoman Mary Cordray angered some community members last week by indicating that at future board meetings, the public would be required to limit their comments to the items listed on that night's meeting agenda.
Last week, Cordray also stopped speakers from speaking the names of others during their comments to the school board, banging her gavel as a speaker tried to thank members JoAnn Orischak and Joseph Dunkle for taking public criticism of the board seriously.
That rule will still be enforced going forward -- except in cases where a speaker says someone's name in order to thank them.
Six members voted to keep the rule in place. Paul Roth and Evva Anderson were absent.
JoAnn Orischak and Joseph Dunkle opposed.
"Now we're on a double-edged sword because you can come in and say something praising, but you can't say something criticizing" board members, Dunkle said. He later added, "I don't really want people to get up there and call me an idiot, but if they want to ..."
Cordray said comments should be centered on issues, adding that speakers can still refer to district employees by their job title.
"You have to learn to separate the person from the problem," she said.
Campbell added that speakers who complain about individuals may slander them, opening themselves and the board up to legal issues.
Richard Bisi, founder of Citizens About Responsible Education, said he was still pleased with the rule changes. The most important change, he said, is allowing residents to speak about any district-related issues they want rather than limiting them to the board's agendas.
"There was just no way that was going to prevail," Bisi said of the old rule, which Cordray did not enforce Tuesday. "(The change) was a victory for freedom of expression."
Orischak, though, was disappointed with the results.
"We're still controlling to some extent what people can say and what people cannot say, and we're still not having an exchange with them," Orischak said. "The beef with this policy is its very nature and how restrictive it is. We haven't done very much to relieve any of that today."
Additionally, the board will still not respond to residents' questions during board meetings. Orischak and Dunkle said they will explore holding town hall forums to create opportunities for conversations with the public.
The board made another change Saturday, deciding to add a second, 15-minute public comment session to the end of each board meeting. Attendees can sign up as soon as the first, 30-minute session ends and can speak twice as long if they don't take the place of someone addressing the board for the first time that night.
The board also said it will begin strictly enforcing its three-minute time limit, with the help of a timer visible to speakers.
Contacting the board
Do you want your voice heard? Here's how to contact Beaufort County School District board members:
Mary Cordray, District 8 - Bluffton
(843) 681-9838 - Home
(803) 312-1196 - Cell
Laura Bush, District 9 - Bluffton
Evva Anderson, District 7 - Pritchardville
Joseph Dunkle, District 4 - Port Royal
Earl Campbell, District 1 - Gray's Hill, Lobeco
(843) 846-4531 - Home
(843) 476-7512 - Cell
Geri Kinton, District 5 - Okatie, Beaufort
JoAnn Orischak, District 11 - southern Hilton Head Island
Michael Rivers, District 3 - St. Helena Island
(843) 263-8467 - Cell
Paul Roth, District 6 - Okatie
Bill Payne, District 10 - northern Hilton Head Island
(843) 682-3285 - Home
(310) 600-0873 - Cell
Follow reporter Rebecca Lurye on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Rebecca.
- Beaufort County school board member: Rules are "un-American," November 4, 2015
- New school board chair supports Moss, cracks down on public comments, November 3, 2015
- Most Beaufort school board members decline comment on hiring of superintendent's wife, September 16, 2015