After suspending the practice for one meeting, members of the Board of Education said last week that they’re hoping to find a secure way for the public to offer comment before the elected body during remote meetings in the future.
Receiving people’s emails isn’t an adequate substitute for the live public comment period that’s part of regular meeting agendas, according to Board member Dionna Carlson.
“I wouldn’t want to see this going to the emails that just come to the Board, because that’s not public,” Carlson said during the Board’s March 30 meeting, held via videoconference.
“There is a lot going on right now and I do think we need to find a way for the public to be able to address us through the digital platform,” Carlson said.
She added, “I think it is is important for us to see and hear the public and for the remainder of the public to see what is being addressed to the Board. So I would not want to see this go to emails and things like that. We just need to figure out how to work with [New Canaan Public Schools Technology Services] to keep these random things off the Zoom platform or go to a different platform that is more secure.”
She referred to inappropriate material that appeared during recent public meetings held by other municipal bodies in New Canaan on Zoom videoconferencing software—a practice known as “Zoom-bombing.”
Board member Bob Naughton suggested the district look into webinar platforms that require advance registration.
Board Vice Chair Brendan Hayes said it was a good idea to “pre-clear those who are going to speak.”
“It is a bit difficult, I think, but my guess is we are not going to have a huge number of people during this period of time,” he said.
Yet those comments came days before a widely discussed vote on the Board of Ed’s proposed spending plan for next fiscal year. On Thursday, the Town Council voted 8-4 in favor of a budget that was about $1 million less than what the Board had asked—a sum that town and district officials both understood to be earmarked for additional transportation and associated costs tied to a proposed change to school start times. Since then, some have called for the Board to find the money in its budget and make the change anyway.
The Board of Ed during the March 30 meeting voted unanimously in favor of motion to suspend the public comment period one time only. Board members at the meeting included Carlson, Secretary Jennifer Richardson, Chair Katrina Parkhill, Sheri West, Penny Rashin, Hayes, Julie Mackle Reeves, Naughton and Carl Gardiner.
Reached by email, Parkhill said the Board would reinstate public comments for its April 6 meeting. According to the agenda, attendees should check the district’s homepage after 4 p.m. for details. The meeting is scheduled to start at 7 p.m.
It wasn’t immediately clear what platform the Board would use. Referring to the type of pre-registered webinars that Naughton had described, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bryan Luizzi said during the March 30 meeting, “We need a little time to figure out how to run those and how to make it work. I do believe that the Zoom platform does run webinars like that. So it’s just a matter of doing some training and learning how to facilitate those gates.”
Public schools in New Canaan have been closed since March 12 due to the COVID-19 emergency. Government meetings are being held via videoconferencing. New Canaan as of Sunday evening had 82 confirmed positive cases of the virus, and 10 deaths, according to emergency management officials.