Chilmark selectmen discussed potentially regulating political signs on town property at their meeting Tuesday, ultimately agreeing to defer action until next spring.

First raised in July by former longtime Chilmark police chief Timothy Rich, the issue centers on the legality of posting signs on public land and concerns over the maximum number of signs that can be posted without obstructing traffic and creating a public safety issue. At the meeting Tuesday, Mr. Rich also expressed concern over allowing only certain signs and not others.

Town counsel Ron Rappaport advised the selectmen that because Beetlebung Corner is state land, it would be up to the state to order sign removal, but only if cited as a public nuisance. Mr. Rappaport suggested any sign dissenters file their complaints directly with the state.

The issue invited discussion about general town policy on public signs, with selectman Bill Rossi suggesting that the board draft an official set of regulations for non-commercial political signs.

Selectman Jim Malkin expressed concern over allowing only certain signs, citing the challenges of making judgments about what constitutes hate speech. “I am quite sure that there are some people who feel that sign currently up at Beetlebung Corner that says Black Lives Matter, defund the police, is a hate message. There are some people who feel that it isn’t,” Mr. Malkin said.

“I would be interested in public comments, or in finding out what people in town think. I’m personally happier without any signs,” he added.

Mr. Rich concurred. “One of the things that’s concerning me about a common theme in this conversation is words that, what is offensive speech what is hate speech, who’s going to determine that question mark,” he said. “It’s a very slippery slope of what one finds hateful and someone doesn’t.”

Selectman Warren Doty suggested a no-sign policy, exempting campaign signs posted 48 hours before an election, but Mr. Rappaport voiced concerns that such a policy could impinge on first amendment rights — especially in the months leading up to a presidential election.

With no clear consensus, at the behest of Mr. Rossi in the end all three selectmen agreed to defer action, pledging to draft a policy to share at the next annual town meeting in April.

“We should take our time and coming up with a comprehensive policy that’s going to be considered to be fair and equal to everyone,” Mr. Rossi said.

In other business, Susan Stevens, principal at the Chilmark School, came before the board to present updates on the school’s re-opening plan. Following the release of Thursday’s decisions, the school plans to bring its teachers back to work on August 31, while students will likely remain fully remote until Sept. 29, Ms. Stevens said.

She told the selectmen that at the up-Island district school committee meeting Wednesday, the school would request in-person half-days for kindergarten and grade 1 students — all of whom the school hopes will qualify for the high-need category.

Per the school’s re-opening plan, Ms. Stevens requested the use of the Chilmark Community Center four times a week for special school electives and in the event of rain.

The school’s use of the property could conflict with a current proposal to extend the town tennis program past August 31, as well as other possible upcoming town events like government meetings and election voting in the fall, selectmen noted.

Mr. Doty granted the school priority in the space over the Community Cetenr recreational programs, while town administrator Tim Carroll agreed to work with Ms. Stevens to develop a schedule for shared use moving forward. Precise discussion of event dates and cleaning schedules were postponed until there is more information.

“We give the school first choice,” Mr. Doty said.

In the final piece of school business, Ms. Stevens requested $39,702 from the town to hire a full-time nurse to operate a Covid testing machine, as recently proposed by Dr. Jeffrey Zack.

Mr. Rossi said the selectmen will investigate further. “I think it’s a great thing for the schools to get this machine to provide daily testing if needed,” he said. “We need to try and find a way to get the money to have a nurse.”

Also Tuesday, selectmen voted unanimously to postpone discussion of tabled annual meeting agenda items, except granting money for repairs at the police station. The town will likely postpone another annual meeting, and the discussion of these topics, until the new year.

“I think at this time that is not enough reason for us to try to have a special town meeting in this Covid pandemic,” Mr. Doty said.