The Columbus School District has stopped airing its school board meetings through Facebook Live and may decrease the amount of time allowed for individual public comments, which has raised concerns for some parents.
At the Sept. 9 board meeting at Columbus City Hall, Board President Cindy Damm stated a few reasons why the district has stopped its live stream to Facebook. Previously, Facebook users interested in the meetings could log on to the district’s page and click on a video link to watch.
Damm said there isn’t a law or mandate requiring the district to broadcast the meetings. She also said there are accessibility concerns because the videos could be difficult to access with individuals with disabilities. Damm said board members held a retreat prior to Monday’s meeting to discuss social media issues.
“We get legal briefings on this and it has become a topic all across the country,” Damm said. “It’s not necessarily closed captioning for the person who is presenting and speaking, it applies to the presentation that goes up on that screen and it’s just not for the board. But if we show that to the community, what do we have for capabilities to make sure it’s ADA compliant? There’s a question if Facebook Live allows us to do that.”
The district does video record most of the meetings and later uploads them to its Facebook page and Vimeo account.
Board Member Julie Hajewski also addressed student privacy concerns. Damm said a presenter at the meeting could release confidential information during live streaming, jeopardizing student privacy.
“We do have the ability to redact that, to protect our students,” Damm said. “That is not something we want to do, but need to. Facebook Live is an interesting animal and that’s something we need to explore with our technology guys.”
Through the past year, according to Damm, Columbus’ staff and administrators have received updated social media training. She said student handbooks have also been revamped to include social media guidelines. Damm said the board will continue to look at social media policies and different ways the district can interact with the public through social networks.
Columbus started Facebook Live broadcasts when the Community Facilities Advisory Committee began meetings in April. The district believed airing the meetings would be an ideal opportunity to connect with the community. In recent weeks, however, the committee has completed its work and meetings ended in July. The district decided to continue broadcasting regular board meetings until recent weeks.
When the district aired live meetings through Facebook, it also allowed user comments to be posted, which opened it up to criticism. In addition, at times, users had difficulties accessing the videos and would request help from Columbus’ information technology staff, Damm said.
“It’s very frustrating because on Tuesday morning, the priority for our technology guys needs to be that our technology for our students and staff must be up and running in our district so we can do what we need to do to educate our students,” Damm said. “To hear our technology guys are being bombarded by the community because Facebook Live doesn’t work is very frustrating because that’s making them balance priorities that are not with students.”
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Speaking time limits
The board tabled a recommendation to reduce the amount of time each speaker receives during the meeting’s public comment portion.
Currently, the board allows each speaker a five-minute limit and 30 total minutes for public comment. The board recommends decreasing each speaker’s time to three minutes. Board Member Kelly Crombie, who has served on other governing boards, believes the topic should have more discussion. Crombie made the motion to table it and it was seconded by Hajewski.
In Fall River, the school board allows three minutes per speaker and 30 total minutes for comments, but there is an exception, said President Keith Miller.
“So if there is only one person asking to speak, we allow more time so they can finish a point they are making or reach a conclusion with the message being shared,” he said.
Miller said having the 30-minute cap is necessary so meetings are not dominated by public comments. Fall River, unless under special circumstances, usually meets once a month.
In Portage, speakers are limited to two minutes each with a maximum of 10 speakers allowed per meeting. In Baraboo, the board president determines how much time should be given for comments, based on how many people sign up to speak and the length of meeting agendas. School boards are not required to allow public comments, but most do so.
On Sept. 10, Parents’ Voice – Columbus, WI, a parent group formed on Facebook to address district concerns, released a letter to the school board. In the letter, the group opposes limiting public speaking time and said they have found “no evidence” to support the change. The group states that the new limit would deter people from making statements and would decrease time to finish their message.
“We remind you to cast your vote with the functions of the board in mind,” the letter states. “Who do you serve? Whose input do you listen to? When the board stressed the importance of the facilities study being community led, the importance remains the same for each key decision you make on behalf of the public you serve.”
The board approved several new hires, including Sarah Brey, food service, Patsy Epstein, food service, Mariclaire Schumacher, food service, Tim Stormer, varsity baseball coach, Toni McGee, high school student council, Jess Parchem, high school student council, and Scott Duffy, high school student council.