Jan 15 2021

How to Ensure Your Virtual School Board Meeting Is Productive

With the right approach, your district’s virtual school board meeting can ensure transparency and accessibility for all students, parents and teachers.

Following COVID-19 health and safety protocols, K–12 school districts across the country have moved their school board meetings online. While virtual meetings can ensure transparency and public access to vital information, the approach raises new challenges — particularly with regard to recording quality and regulatory compliance.

From laws regulating public access to collaborative tools that can enhance meeting quality, here are some key considerations for helping school districts hold productive and compliant virtual meetings.

Regulations and Public Policies Governing Access

While regulations vary from state to state, “sunshine laws” generally require school districts to make reasonable efforts to ensure the public has live access to virtual meetings and event recordings. For example, California’s Brown Act requires local governments to post agendas 72 hours prior to meetings.

“Transparency is more essential now than it has been in a very long time,” David Snyder, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition, told Chalkbeat.

At the start of the pandemic, Snyder published “Sunshine Week: Transparency Critical During Public Health Emergency,” a document that provides free resources from the First Amendment Coalition. It includes access to a legal hotline, a freedom of information boot camp and sample public records request letters. “During times of widespread uncertainty, the public needs a clear picture of what our government is doing,” Snyder wrote.

As the pandemic took hold in 2020, new regulations were drawn up to help school districts adjust to stay-at-home orders and provide continual support for their communities. In Tennessee, for example, Gov. Bill Lee signed an executive order in March requiring that “each governing body must make reasonable efforts to ensure that the public access to the meeting via electronic means is live access.” If livestreaming isn’t possible, schools must provide audio or video recordings of the meeting within two business days.

As the effects of COVID-19 spill over into 2021, expect similar policies to appear in districts across the country.

LEARN MORE: Here’s What to Know About Moving Classroom Management Online.

Tools for a Successful Virtual Board Meeting

Like most remote meetings taking place today, virtual school board sessions use videoconferencing platforms, recording devices, teleconferencing software and other technology resources to enhance the experience for all participants. These tools help schools comply with open records laws while conducting business online, even without the benefits of traditional in-person meetings.

For example, a typical school board meeting includes opportunities for questions or commentary from the audience. In place of this, Colorado School District 49 gave participants the option to submit questions ahead of time via a chat feature. The district streams its school board meetings on Facebook Live, Google Hangouts and Zoom.

Virtual school board meetings also need high-quality audio and video for viewers. Here are some of the tools districts have deployed:

“The more we can make families feel secure and reassured about their students’ education, and how important and valuable their children are, the better they feel about things,” John Graham, District 49 school board president, told Chalkbeat. With the right tools and resources, schools can navigate their new virtual environments while upholding transparency — perhaps well enough that remote school board meetings may remain a post-pandemic option for districts.

MORE ON EDTECH: 5 Best Practices for Managing Virtual Breakout Rooms.

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