The issue started innocently enough. At one of the school board meetings, member Larry Grove (Woodville) asked that his questions from a previous meeting be included in the minutes.
That’s when he found out that the minutes do not keep such detail.
Furthermore, as he looked more deeply into the matter, he found that the minutes record little more than that a school board meeting occurred and that a particular subject was discussed. Not much and not very helpful.
“The board currently records minutes that are available to the public and which are consistent with Virginia Code [section 2.2-3707(H)] and our own policy [Item BDDG].” Grove further noted that Board minutes are posted monthly to the school’s internet site on Board Docs, and are available in hardcopy by request at the School Board Office.
But that is not of much help to anyone who wished to find out what happened at the meetings.
The issue then arose from several in the community that the School Board meetings should be recorded in video or audio format, both for posterity and so community members who are unable to attend meetings could review them and get up to speed on issues.
But in February the board voted not to keep audio recordings of School Board meetings. Grove and Board Member Pud Maeyer voted for the audio recordings; the other three members voted against.
Some have surmised that the minutes are not kept because it prevents improper actions by the Board from being discovered. The real reason appears to be much less devious.
Board minutes are subject to FOIA (Freedom of Information) rules. When FOIA requests come in, they can be costly to handle, particularly in terms of staff time. So the school system chose not to keep detailed minutes; the detail was not needed and FOIA requests of them took away scarce school resources.
Grove is a former principal in the Arlington VA school system, and notes that Arlington, like many school systems, provides a video record of the public part of the School Board meetings. He believes that the Rappahannock School Board meetings should be likewise transparent and open to the community.
So he worked with the Board to develop an alternative for audio/video (A/V) recordings. The Board agreed that this is their preferred approach.
Said Grove, “The open session portions of board meetings are public forums, and as such anyone attending from the public can choose to make an audio/visual recording. Much like how the Rappahannock News records public meetings, an independent entity could record the meeting, then upload it to YouTube or to a similar distribution mechanism.”
He continued, “An independent entity is anyone not directly associated with the school system. In other words, the person making the recording cannot be a school system employee, agent, board member, or student. This alternative does not produce what is legally considered a ‘public record’. However, it serves to ensure that a broader audience can view and hear meetings.”
Grove added that this alternative costs the county nothing and provides a service that further engages the community with the ongoing activities and challenges of our school system. The Board will ensure that there is a table set up at each meeting to host the video equipment and operator, if it is desired.
According to the Virginia Code, if the board or any agent of the school were to create a video recording, it provokes additional and “historically significant” requirements for our school district which would have fiscal impact (and thus budgetary implications) including purchase of equipment, purchase of redundant equipment, maintenance of equipment, and an operator to record, upload, and move the recordings to permanent storage. The Board believes that using scarce resources for this purpose is not productive.
Instead, according to Grove, the School Board is open to and is inviting an organized method of capturing an A/V record of the public part of its meetings. Any community member or group interested in leading the effort should contact Dr. Matthews, Rappahannock School Superintendent, if interested. Her secretary can be reached at 540 227-0313.
by Jim Blubaugh, Washington VA