Several school districts removed the virtual option for board meetings. (Unsplash)

5 school districts drop virtual option for board meetings

Jarek RutzEducation, Headlines

Several school districts removed the virtual option for board meetings. (Unsplash)

Several school districts removed the virtual option for board meetings. (Unsplash)

Five of Delaware’s 19 school districts no longer livestream their board meetings. 

Caesar Rodney, Delmar, Laurel, Smyrna and Woodbridge school districts removed the virtual option this years as students and faculty return to an in-person environment with pandemic restrictions diminishing.

John Marinucci, the executive director of the Delaware School Boards Association, said the organization pushed for legislation that allowed, but not required, boards to conduct virtual meetings with virtual attendance and participation. 

“We strongly support local board authority and control, as such, virtual meetings and/or meeting live-streaming is a decision to be made by the local school board,” he said.

Even if boards no longer livestream their meetings, Marinucci doesn’t think the public is missing out on any information. 

“Because the audio recordings of board meetings are required to be posted,” he said, “transparency and accessibility concerns are mitigated as we return to pre-pandemic operations.”

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Attempts were unsuccessful last week to reach Caesar Rodney, Delmar, Laurel, Smyrna and Woodbridge officials for comment.

Some school board members think community members miss out without the virtual option.

“In this day and age, there is absolutely no justification for not live streaming school board meetings,” said Naveed Baqir, a board member in Christina School District.

In the post-pandemic world, more people are comfortable with technology, and discontinuing livestreams on technical grounds doesn’t make sense, he said.

“Expecting members of the public to physically gather in a single location almost always drives attendance down,” he said. “Livestreaming school board meetings allows for greater transparency and accountability, as well as providing an opportunity for members of the public to stay informed and engaged in the decision-making process.”

Jose Matthews, a board member in Red Clay Consolidated School District, said not providing a virtual option creates a huge equity problem.

“Before virtual meeting options, we used to have citizens walking to meetings, moms having to find childcare arrangements, people really struggled to get here,” he said. “You have to ask yourself, what is really going on in the schools of those five school districts that they want to keep a secret.”

He would like to encourage residents in the five school districts that discontinued a virtual option to fight back and push elected school board members to broaden their access to what is happening with their tax dollars and the future of their children.

Most of Delaware’s charter schools also have the hybrid model for their board meetings where the public can attend in person or virtually, according to Kendall Massett, executive director of the Delaware Charter Schools Network.

Local education advocacy group First State Educate also believes meetings should be livestreamed.

“School boards and the meetings they hold are critical and unique monthly connection points between families and those making decisions on the quality of the schools their children attend,” said Laurisa Schutt, executive director. “If we are serious about community access and meeting families where they are,  then we give remote options to participate.”

The technology in place makes providing a virtual option simple, she said.

“The more access families have, the more engagement offered, the more supportive people become in their own child’s education, which helps teachers teach and leaders lead,” she said.

The opposite is also true, she said. 

“The less access families have, the less transparent the district’s decision making process is, the more people question,” she said.“Let’s make simple, best practice decisions that leave  time to focus on what really matters: data, growth, literacy and wellness.”

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