Cape commenting policy deserves more effort
A recent policy change by the Cape Henlopen school board about the public’s ability to make comments during open meetings has rubbed some parents the wrong way.
The change specifies that when the board is meeting in person – not online/virtually – the public can only comment if in actual attendance.
The board had been meeting virtually from the start of the pandemic up until last August. Board members took heat late in the summer for meeting virtually when they voted that staff and teachers should go back into the schools to work when the new school year started. That’s when the board decided to return to in-person meetings.
Up until the recent change, the board – which still livestreams its board meetings via Zoom – allowed comments via online connections.
Two problems: First, there are still many people who – due to the pandemic – are nervous about going out into a group setting. Most people interested in the business of the school district are parents. Most are younger than 65 and will likely not qualify for vaccinations until late spring or early summer. This new policy not only limits the voices of these concerned parents, but also deprives board members of the collective wisdom that can be derived from dialogue during meetings, whether online or in person.
Second, though Cape District prides itself on its technological prowess, the audio quality of the livestreamed meetings is reportedly sketchy. If online attendees are not able to clearly hear all board members and other in-person attendees speaking, that can hamper their ability to fully understand and participate in meetings. That issue should be promptly addressed even if it requires a professional sound person at the meetings.
Zoom meetings can certainly be awkward, fraught with technical difficulties such as unmuted microphones when audience members aren’t speaking, and access/connection issues. But giving the nervous public a say during this unique period in our history deserves more effort and creativity – perhaps only allowing chat-room comments during meetings – than taking the easy way out of awkward situations with a blanket prohibition of all online commenting.