Monday Morning Thoughts: Heavy-Handed Approach on Applause at School Board Meetings?



The school board subcommittee has made quick work on a recommendation to limit audience applause at school board meetings.  They recommend adding the following language to public comment direction: “In order to maintain a respectful public forum, members of the audience will please limit applause to occasions of student performance, employee recognition, and significant community contributions which are celebrated by everyone present.”

The recommended change comes just two weeks after School Board Member Susan Lovenburg complained about applause that she said “interrupted the proceedings multiple times at the last meeting” during discussion of the issue of AIM.

She said, “I just think we as a board that supports a democratic forum where all opinions should be respected – I would just like to see if we have some interest in establishing a bit more of a protocol around applause than we really permitted at the last meeting.”

Ms. Lovenburg was backed by Barbara Archer and Tom Adams, with Alan Fernandes more circumspect.

Ms. Archer added, “I think it got a little out of control on the (April) 21st.  Our goal is to have people feel  like no matter what their opinion is… this is a safe place to express it.  We could go back to jazz-hands.”

As the Vanguard noted in its column a week ago, the school board and city council over the years have left the decision about audience applause to the presiding officer.  The policies have varied from restricting applause to in recent years allowing it.

While I personally tend to believe that applause is distracting from the content of the public comments, the language recommended here seems unnecessarily limiting.  The language here could simply be to request that the public be respectful of all views, and grant the presiding officer the discretion to limit applause when needed.

The issue of applause seemed only tangential to the true complaint, which was that someone heckled one of the speakers.

As board member Tom Adams put it, “It was really disconcerting and this wasn’t the only meeting – it’s when people try to shout down and interrupt someone making public comment.  To me we provide this forum and I believe that … first of all, it’s always hard for people to come to a public meeting.  Second, it’s doubly hard for someone to approach the podium and actually make a comment.”

“For me, I really want them to feel safe and comfortable in making that.  The fact that someone would try to interrupt someone to me is not what we’re about as a town, as a community, and our school system,” he said.  “We want to model the behavior that our students should have and we should make sure that we have reasoned debate.  It’s okay to have different opinions but when you have been given three minutes to talk, and that’s the only shot you get, then you should feel like you won’t be interrupted or that you have to deal with applause and any other thing that might keep you from making your point.”

In my view, the issue of applause is separate and distinct from the issue of heckling.  The fact that the people who brought up this issue were on the opposite side of the fence from the bulk of the commenters and that they raised the issue of applause concurrent with the incident of heckling should at least be noted.

In my review of the video from that meeting, the heckling incident was a single incident.  It occurred at 2:43:30 on the video from April 21 and the public commenter was speaking when someone behind her said something that was not intelligible on the video.

What the board members failed to note is that Ms. Sunder immediately stated, “Let the speaker finish, please,” and gave her extra time to speak.

So the one incident had nothing to do with applause, it was handled appropriately by the president, and none of the board members noted that at the meeting on Thursday.

Tom Adams reiterated, “What I have no tolerance for is someone interrupting someone while making public comment or trying to shout them down.  I think we should have no tolerance for that.”

Susan Lovenburg said, “It is the president’s prerogative to run the meeting, the board can set protocols.”

Indeed, but why be overly restrictive when the board president has the ability now to limit applause and the chief complaint was not applause, but heckling – something that was handled in real time by the board president?

This just seems like an effort to crack down on dissent by the public rather than an effort to allow board meetings to run more smoothly.  The board should reconsider less restrictive language – giving the president the direction that they can crack down, rather than ordering applause to be shut down.

—David M. Greenwald reporting


About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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60 thoughts on “Monday Morning Thoughts: Heavy-Handed Approach on Applause at School Board Meetings?”

  1. zaqzaq

    Lovenberg, Archer and Adams simply do not like the fact that the vast majority of the applause is in support of views that they do not agree with.  This is one way for them to silence in your face criticism.  Petty politicians with thin skins should not run for office.

    1. Greg Brucker

      Silencing criticism would include not allowing public comment from those in disagreement. They have showed nothing of that type of behavior.

      I’m also sure that if it was the other way around, and the clapping was preventing those you agree with from speaking easily, you’d not want the clapping to happen.



    2. DavisAnon

      So this is what Lovenburg chooses to focus on?! Out of all the educational issues in the district, she wants to spend her time on the Board making completely unnecessary policy that seeks to limit public input. There was one brief interruption of a speaker that night, and Sunder shut it down immediately.

      Why can’t she do the job she was elected to do – improve education in our schools? What about the poor retention and training of teachers, large class sizes, ballooning administrative costs, the failures of Common Core curriculum or the achievement gap? There are so many needs in our schools that are not being met! In her nine years on the Board, she will have destroyed the AIM program with no attempt to ameliorate the negatives for students affected, stifled public input, and told the community they needed to get over it and move on after she inappropriately voted to fire the DHS volleyball coach.

      The one who needs to move on is Lovenburg. It is far past time to vote her off the Board.

    3. Napoleon Pig IV

      Lovenburg and her minons are such pieces of work! Surely we need to get some august body to designate them historical landmarks. Or should that be hysterical? Or maybe I was thinking about dustbins of history. Oh my. It get so confusing out here in the pasture trying to keep track of all the barnyard antics and idiocies.

      I wonder what she’ll do when someone applauds for the wrong reason. Have a minion try to throw the offender out? If we are unable to laugh at the minion as his (or maybe her) backside hits the floor because the targeted citizen is a peaceful type, we will at least be able to sigh when the District loses the civil suit for assault of a citizen by a minion.


    1. Greg Brucker

      It is not a first amendment violation. When clapping is replaced by another silent motion, no ones rights are infringed upon, and in fact, peoples’ right to free speech is supported in that those talking (on all sides of an issue) would be allowed to speak without being interrupted by the public. Being that public commenters are only given 3 minutes (I’d love to see a longer time-but I always find I have far more to say than can be contained in a 3 minute time period), I’d hope that all people would want to support them having those 3 minutes to speak without interruption.






      1. Misanthrop

        Nobody is saying speakers should be interrupted. This isn’t about speakers getting interrupted. This is about the school board tiring of being confronted with the implementation of unpopular policies.

        i just wonder if someone shows up and claps in support of the parcel tax are they going to be told to be quiet or leave?

        1. Greg Brucker

          Clapping interrupts all speakers. You can’t deny that it is disruptive, regardless of intention.

          All 5 board members, in my opinion and experience as a private citizen and as a teacher in the district, are very open to hearing all sides of an issue and have no interest in trying to stifle free speech in any way.

          As a big supporter of our parcel taxes, I would personally love to see no clapping (but using another silent motion) for those public comments and conversations. As I said, I think it only helps create a positive environment for the free exchange of ideas and allows all people their allotted time without disruption, which is a very pro-free speech thing to do in my opinion.

        2. Napoleon Pig IV

          Clapping does not necessarily interrupt all speakers. Clapping is welcomed by many speakers, and is certainly appropriate at the end of a speaker’s comments.

          Greg, you’ve drifted into the land of propaganda. Not a bad thing if you’re teaching how to recognize it, but not so great otherwise.

          Lovenburg and her minions do just fine with their own propaganda generation and dissemination.

        3. Greg Brucker

          Mr. or Mrs. NPIV,

          Respectfully, posts like this (and your posts a few above) are where you regularly lose me and many other people as some who might otherwise be interested in what you have to say.


          Past that, I wish you the best.







        4. DavisAnon

          Gotta disagree with you on that, Greg. There is more wisdom in one of those  pig’s hooves than there has been in the entire DJUSD district office lately.  

          Reading Napoleon’s commentary often brings a much-needed chuckle to my day and nearly always hits the mark. It gives me hope that more enlightened minds may one day reclaim the barnyard and restore the damage being done to our schools.

          Napoleon Pig IV for school board trustee!! Wait, do they let pigs into the city chambers…? Oink!!

        5. Napoleon Pig IV

          Thanks for the kind words, DavisAnon.

          I’m pretty sure they’ve already let a few pigs into city chambers at various times. But, I suppose they didn’t intend for that to be precedent-setting.


  2. Greg Brucker

    As a teacher in the district and someone who believes very much in our rights as Americans to speak our minds freely without fear of disruption nor adversarial action in a venue such as a School Board meeting, I think it can be ok to have clapping, but I also think, even more strongly, that using a different and silent motion to show support or disdain of a comment being spoken can send just as strong of a message to the board, while also demonstrating a higher level of respect of those who are speaking and to the board as a whole.

    I think it also helps to keep the intensity down, as to not escalate these meetings energetically, so that calm conversation can prevail and those on all sides can be free from any perceived intimidation by those in the room, which both benefit the ideal of free speech and everyone’s right to speak their beliefs publicly. That also helps to create a better dialog between people on all sides of an issue, and that there is the basis of our country’s founding, and something we should all be pushing for in working to support the ideals of America and what we all believe in.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      Greg, My only difference here, is that most of the time, applause isn’t a problem. So why not leave it up to the board president. I think Susan on the 21st should have suggested to Madhavi that things were a little out of hand and maybe we should request people do the “jazz hands” – I think Madhavi would have agreed at that point and this would be a non-issue. Just my preference for a lower level board policy.

      1. Greg Brucker

        I’m not really in disagreement with you, David. I think most of the time it isn’t an issue, which is why I’m not completely opposed to it. For what its worth, the previous boards all had this as a policy and no one complained about it at all from what I remember.



      2. Greg Brucker

        Let me add that (in reading everyone’s comments), there are two things being discussed

        1. Clapping during comments

        2. Clapping after comments

        I assume that everyone agrees clapping during comments is disruptive.

        Clapping after comments, though generally not inappropriate, can lend itself to escalating the energy in a room and become a perceived intimidation tactic (regardless of intention).

        I think for that reason, for the reason that the clapping during comments is disruptive for the speaker, and in working to create consistency across the spectrum of meetings, issues, and time which people may clap, it is very fair to hold a policy of no clapping at all, but instead using jazz-hands or another (appropriate) motion to signify support for a comment to help facilitate a constructive meeting with the open flow of ideas and exchanges without fear for all people on all sides of an issue.

        1. Tia Will

          A simple thumbs up or thumbs down after a comment would serve the same purpose and allow the board members to do a brief visual tally if they were so inclined. It would also allow both speaker and board members to simply avert their eyes if they didn’t want to see the reaction. No waste of time and no auditory disruption.

        2. Napoleon Pig IV

          I’m not much into jazz hands either. A smile and a nodding of the head sounds reasonable for a sign of agreement. How about if we agree on excessive salivation and audible grinding of teeth (with silent snarling in extreme cases) for disagreement or rampant disdain?

  3. ryankelly

    School Board meetings are not rallies.   If people want to stand before the podium and clap their hands for 3 minutes, they are free to do so.  There is no infringement on their rights.  I see no problem with this policy.

  4. Tia Will

    The purpose of public comment is to allow any individual to have their ideas considered in a public forum. When I first started providing public comment, this was extremely hard for me to do. Any disruption during my presentation ( supportive or not) was enough to cause me to lose my train of thought and become unnerved. Applause provided for a speaker preceding me, whether supportive of not, was disruptive to my thought processes. I got over it.

    But the point is, we have any number of people in our community who through their youth, or lack of experience with public speaking, or the knowledge that they are going to present a minority view, will have difficulty speaking. In my opinion, we should not be allowing groups to disrupt public comment with applause. There is no limitation of “free speech” here as everyone has the same three minutes to express their view.

    Applause in the midst of public comment is disruptive and uses up time that could be spent on discussion and consideration of the issues. It adds nothing to the intended informative nature of public comment. Does anyone believe that when the comments are running 10 to 1, that the board members cannot tell which is the more popular point of view ?

    As for silencing “in your face criticism”, I would question whether “in your face anything” has a any place in a school board meeting which should be a model for civil behavior.

    1. Misanthrop

      It is important to remember the context of what is going on here.

      I’m imagining John Lewis, who, the other day at the Law School Commencement talked about being arrested 40 times for things like sitting at a segregated lunch counter, sitting in the school board meeting in Davis waving jazz hands when he perceived the board majority denying Fernandes’ motion to fill a section of gate with under represented minority students.

      1. wdf1

        Misanthrop:  …Fernandes’ motion to fill a section of gate with under represented minority students.

        This is what the Vanguard reported from that meeting:

        The motion put forward by Ms. Sunder and Mr. Fernandes said, “Continue a third AIM strand for the 2016-17 school year, to accommodate those students who meet the qualifications of the AIM program. The class size for AIM strands shall be comparable to the average class size for that grade level and remaining seats, if any, shall be filled as an inclusion classroom with a preference toward high ability students.”

        It would also: “Direct staff to reassess students who are English learners, low income, learning disabled, or from historically disadvantaged minorities, for the purpose of ensuring the identification for these at risk student groups to ensure equal access to the AIM program in the 2016-17 school year.”

        If there is interest in seeking students who are under-represented in the demographic profile of AIM/GATE, why not seek out students from families with lower levels of parent education (i.e., no college education)?  I have pointed out that there is under-representation of such students in the district’s AIM/GATE program.  The proposed motion doesn’t appear to acknowledge that.  

        Colleges and universities, including UC Davis, seem to make an extra effort to attract and serve first generation college students, but DJUSD seems not to be as broadly aware of this demographic group among the various pathways to eventual college education.

        In Davis, having college education is the currency of privilege.

        1. Barack Palin

          In Davis, having college education is the currency of privilege.

          I’ll have to add that one to the long list of privilege currencies (as you put it)


          white – privilege checklist

          male – privilege checklist

          Masculine (under discussion, feel free to send your input)

          cis – privilege checklist

          heterosexual – privilege checklist

          sexual – tumblog creating a privilege checklist


          binary gender – privilege checklist (imperfect)

          dyadic (non-intersex people are dyadically sexed )

          temporarily able bodied – privilege checklist

          neurotypical – privilege checklist

          vanilla – privilege checklist

          singlet (a person who is not part of a multiple system is a singlet person) – privilege checklist

          monogamous – privilege checklist

          socially acceptable body size- privilege checklist

          native english speaker

          Native speaker of the main language/s in your country

          middle+ class – not a privilege checklist, but what being poor means

          access to education

          adult – privilege checklist

          Christian [non-universal] – privilege checklist [checklist is US/UK-centric]

          natural-born US citizen privilege – privilege checklist

          Now we can add Eduacted Parents to this list

        2. wdf1

          wdf1:  Colleges and universities, including UC Davis, seem to make an extra effort to attract and serve first generation college students…

          For instance, for the currently concluding academic year,

          For UCD, first-generation college student admission offers equaled 35.3 percent, and low-family-income admission offers made up 31.5 percent.  source


        3. Frankly

          BP – Thanks for this.  I know I was feeling privileged, now I know why.

          I think though you left off “full head of hair”.   That is an important privilege because it allows me membership in the “follicle-challenged” victims group.   And my group is angry and ain’t gonna’ take it no more.  When was the last time we had a President with a receding hairline?  Never.   This discrimination has to stop!

        4. Misanthrop

          “Is the board going to address the fact that Davis white students are underrepresented in the AIM/GATE programs?”


          Yes, the board majority is addressing this exact problem by limiting the program to as few students as possible. If they could get away with it politically, I have no doubt, despite claims otherwise by board members, they would eliminate the over representation of asians compared to whites by getting rid of the program altogether.

          And don’t dismiss for an instant the possibility that this is more an attack on Sunder trying to embarrass her for her leadership style and sympathy for the gate parents than anything about how a meeting should be conducted.

        5. wdf1

          BP:  Is the board going to address the fact that Davis white students are underrepresented in the AIM/GATE programs?

          Prop. 209 (1996) governs how California public colleges and universities may discriminate for preferential treatment or resources:

          (a) The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting. 


          California public colleges/universities can give preferential treatment on the basis of parent education level (i.e., being a first generation college student) and income level, as they’re not included in that list.  I have to imagine that Fernandes’ motion might actually have run afoul of Prop. 209 if it had passed, since Davis JUSD is a California institution of public education.

          I think it makes better since to align student preference in this way (keeping track of outcomes for parent education & income level), over race/ethnicity.  The purpose of public education is to offer optimal accessibility to education in order to produce an educated populace.

        6. Misanthrop

          If you had listened to the meeting you would have heard the debate about this very point. You need to review the entire transcript to appreciate what was voted down, filling the last section with under represented minority students who scored just below the cut off. Students who nobody suggested would not have been successful in the program and, evidence suggests, would have benefitted the most from being in the program.

        7. wdf1

          Misanthrop:  You need to review the entire transcript…

          I would love to review a transcript, but the school district does not produce transcripts of school board meetings.  They do produce meeting minutes which summarize, often very generally, what was discussed.

        8. Misanthrop

          You can review the board discussion after public comment on the video of the meeting.

          BTW, if you want to invoke Prop. 209 in defending the board majority, please, by all means have at it, it only reinforces my contention that the attack on gate is a white backlash coming out of fear that asian students are outcompeting white kids.

        9. wdf1

          Misanthrop:  BTW, if you want to invoke Prop. 209 in defending the board majority, please, by all means have at it, it only reinforces my contention that the attack on gate is a white backlash coming out of fear that asian students are outcompeting white kids.

          Now you are engaging in wild and unfounded speculation.  If you go to my source link on Prop. 209, it gives a table showing enrollment rates by race/ethnicity for first year UC students over the years before and after Prop. 209.  You will see that as a percentage, whites are declining, and overall Asian percentages are increasing.  The eventual outcome of Prop. 209 did not necessarily favor an increase in enrollment of whites as a percentage. Therefore, if you think that by introducing Prop. 209 into the discussion that I am engaging in white backlash, then you have that inconsistency to address.

      2. Misanthrop

        Fine, I’m sure you are not supporting the concept of Prop 209. But by even citing it you open a can of worms.

        The problem with the anti-asian bias that I hear about in many contexts, numbers at the University, international admissions, tiger moms doing the gate kids homework, to name a few, is that we are competing in a global economy. DJUSD taking down the AIM program for kids who would benefit from it only serves to allow us to remain less competitive in the global economy by not allowing every child to be appropriately challenged. We are not competing against LAUSD we are competing against Taiwan and Finland.

        By the way and for the record, I too am pissed off about UCD admitting less qualified foreign students who are willing to pay much higher tuition. Of all the goals in higher ed admissions this is the most infuriating and least defensible idea of all.

        1. wdf1

          Misanthrop:  Fine, I’m sure you are not supporting the concept of Prop 209. But by even citing it you open a can of worms.

          I am unclear of your personal concerns over Prop. 209.  I have shown you that Asian students at UC’s were not disadvantaged by the measure, and in fact that the percentage of white students declined.  Why do you think it is a can of worms?


          Misanthrop:  We are not competing against LAUSD we are competing against Taiwan and Finland.

          And in shifting the American view of education to be more global, I think we have become more concerned about comparing standardized test scores against other countries, states, and schools, than about doing what makes sense in education at a local or regional level.  If we focused more immediately on what our needs were in front of us (broad curricular offerings, , irrespective of standardized test scores, then I think our standardized test scores would rise on their own and we wouldn’t think much of it.  Instead we worry about the standardized test scores first and the rest of foundational education starts feeling like it has lost meaning and purpose.

  5. Misanthrop

    I have attended public meetings for many years. It is only in Davis where I can recall any objection to clapping when someone is finished speaking. Can anyone give some examples outside of Davis where such a policy exists?

    1. Misanthrop

      Because it provides context from outside of the Davis bubble. Just like the shock people express when I tell them there are people in Davis that say we don’t need more jobs, I think its important to see how other communities address such free speech issues so that the people of  Davis may reflect on how we are the same or different from the rest of America. People often refer to Davis as trying to be like the People’s Republic of Berkeley, the soda tax comes to mind, but in this case no malapropism is needed. I’m concerned about the Governance of Davis being the same as the People’s Republic of China where there are strict rules about freedom of expression.

  6. Don Shor

    “Please keep applause to a minimum.” Interrupting speakers isn’t tolerated, and when it happens the speaker is given extra time.

    That’s the only policy that needs to be implemented.

  7. Tia Will

    So the objection to a silent signal of approval or disapproval would be …..? Why is clapping with the inescapable auditory and time wasting nature the gold standard ?

    Spoken as someone who was not at the meeting, has never attended a school board meeting, and can see pros and cons to either approach to GATE.

  8. The Pugilist

    This is ridiculous, the school board could have handled this on the spot with existing rules.  They chose not to.  I think the question we should be asking is why?  My guess is that this isn’t about applause.  I think ZaqZaq and BP have it right.  Like Misinthrop, “When I am in agreement with Don Shor and Barack Palin the community … I’m kind of speechless. Maybe I’ll just clap.”  Well played.

  9. Misanthrop

    “…and significant community contributions which are celebrated by everyone present.”

    So suppose the board is honoring something or somebody and someone present informs the chair they object to applause, is the entire public supposed to not applaud because that is what this is saying with the use of the words everyone present?

    This is the problem with trying to craft rules that only suppress applause they find unfavorable. It becomes almost impossible to craft such language. Then there is the problem of enforcement. How do they plan on enforcing such a rule anyway?

    There is special irony here because they had all applauded the DHS student who won a national journalism award. They applaud the first amendment except when they don’t approve of how it is used.

  10. ryankelly

    People seem to think that clapping in agreement is OK during public comment periods.  What about booing in disagreement?  Would that then be OK too?

      1. ryankelly

        Yes, but consider that an absence of clapping has that same effect, when all commenters receive applause when they support one view, but not commenters who oppose that view.

        1. Misanthrop

          I think most agree that booing is not nice but if I had to craft a consistent policy I would prefer clapping and booing to silence as long as it happens without interrupting the speaker.

          The problem is that some don’t want to deal with the messy process of democracy they prefer a sanitized version.


    1. Misanthrop

      Yes and I thought the previous mayor was an ass when he did so. Especially the way he talked down to students who clapped the few times they bothered to show up and participate when he was mayor.

      1. Frankly

        Just like there are teachers that run a tight ship in terms of attendee behavior, I think there are benefits to it.   People will tend to start drifting further and further toward inappropriate behavior that disrupts the entire process.   If you really think about it, clapping and other noise-making in a board meeting is simply a disruptive emotional expressions.   A simple head-nod or head-shake is all that is needed.

  11. Alan Miller

    The idea of allowing clapping but not allowing booing is patently ridiculous.  “Positive” my ass.  There are many proposals that are outright negative.  I one claps for a proposal that is negative, that is positive?  That is insanity.

  12. JosephBiello

    I was there on the 21st of April – making a comment and applauding as necessary.  The applause did not draw out the meeting at all.  Applause is a culturally accepted way to express approval – and if it isn’t used with heckling, it is quite common.

    There was one incident where some members of the audience shouted out, aghast, at an outright lie by one of the anti-AIM / anti-good administration teachers.   This brief interruption (inappropriate I agree) was used to give that teacher more time to speak, which is fine.

    Shutting down applause – a natural and appropriate reaction – means that the Lovenburg/Archer/Adams majority can use any applause to then insist on extra time for the counter argument.

    It seems like a harmless rule, but it is not – it will shut down counter voices.

    Ultimately, I realized that it doesn’t matter – one can see Lovenburg completely zone out during public comment.  None of the overwhelming number of comments by the parents was ever addressed by the Lovenburg/Archer/Adams group.    They do not respond to argumentation, they respond to political force.

    Lovenburg has proved that the only voice the public has is during election season.










    1. Cindy_Pickett

      The meeting was a very good civics lesson for my kids. The next day my daughter (who attended the meeting with me) was very anxious to hear how the board voted. She was obviously disappointed to hear the news, but I told her that THIS is why we need to be involved in elections. This is why we walked door-to-door for the Sunder campaign and donated our money and why we’ll be doing the same for the upcoming board elections in the fall. She was very energized and is looking forward to next election cycle. As I told her the day after the board meeting, “this is not the end, it’s just the beginning.”

      1. DavisAnon

        Well said. My children have also become politically aware and active after being appalled by the Board’s behavior in these meetings.

        It’s too bad more adults of voting age don’t see what goes on in these meetings – the “Gang of Three” (as someone above put it) are embarrassing to watch in action and I don’t think the public would be happy to see this is who is representing them.

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