BOE and Public Meeting Zooms Shouldn’t End with the COVID-19 Pandemic
COVID-19 has been difficult for all of us on so many different levels; but, some things that we discovered over the last year need to stay around. One of those "new discoveries" is Zoom and live streaming technology.
I realize there are many people who are done with Zoom because they're experiencing what psychologists are calling COVID fatigue. I believe we need to look at the streaming technology as a huge benefit going forward and nowhere does its value shine brighter than in public meetings.
Joe Hobika, a board of education member at the Utica City School District told WIBX on Monday, the district had stopped live streaming board meetings because the COVID-19 state of emergency had expired. He said he disagrees with the decision, which may have come from board president Lou LaPolla without consulting other members of the board, according to Hobika. Hobika gave board leadership until the end of the day on Monday to reconsider the decision, or he would be calling for a special meeting to debate the issue.
Hobika said before COVID-19, the district would get about 40 residents attending a meeting in-person. During COVID, virtual meetings were getting hundreds of views, even more than 1,600 on one occasion. Hobika said this service allows for more people to participate, and furthermore, with COVID numbers increasing due to the Delta variant, it's probably the safest option going forward. He asked that the board president reconsider the decision and make the streaming option available for all future meetings. "If we can get more people to participate in the process, that's a good thing," he said.
Hobika told WIBX later in the day, a decision was made to reinstate the video streaming option for next Tuesday's board of education meeting. Details will be available on the district website. A video of the July 27th board meeting is available here.
Let's be honest, some school board meetings have been heated and difficult over the last year. That should not be a reason to now eliminate the option for the community. Streaming public meetings so it's convenient for constituents to watch is something that should be a mandated fixture going forward.
Utica is not alone in trying to revert their board meetings back to in-person as other districts and municipalities have done the same thing. I propose that school districts, town, village, county and city, and other government meetings should all offer in-person and online streaming options for meetings going forward. There's the ability to set up ground rules and maybe it will be too difficult to allow for a comment session for both in-person and online. Either way, allowing people to participate virtually in addition to in-person opens the door to many more people and it gives another level of transparency to these public meetings that have traditionally been poorly attended.
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