In the Internet age, most Idaho school boards do not video their meetings

GARDEN VALLEY — The Garden Valley School District’s board of trustees will continue to live stream board meetings for patrons to watch remotely or access later.

But the decision didn’t come without opposition.

The five-member elected board voted 3-1 with one absent during an August meeting to continue the practice. Trustee Morris Morgan was opposed to continue digital access to Garden Valley’s board meetings.

Idaho law does not require boards to video meetings. They are required to record written minutes of meetings and make them available to the public.

The Aug. 16 Garden Valley meeting had six people in attendance. In comparison, 21 people watched the live streamed meeting on July 16.

“And this doesn’t include access after,” technology director, Kevin Hennessey, told the board on Aug. 16.

Brandon Overlie, a father of three from Lowman, testified in favor of continuing the live streaming because Lowman is a remote mountain town over 20 miles from Garden Valley but still in district boundaries.

“I don’t see the logic to ending livestream and audio coverage. It seems to me an attempt to keep some things hidden,” Overlie said to trustees. “I don’t see the downside of absolute transparency. We’ve all seen the fallout across this nation of teachers and boards not keeping parents involved.”

Garden Valley’s board use of technology is unusual, especially among remote districts.

Only 20% of Idaho districts and charters (39 of 186) live stream board meetings, according to an EdNews review of websites. And less than 20% (22 of 113) of rural Idaho districts provide streaming access to school board meetings. Of the 61 that live stream, about two-third archive the recordings.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, many state meetings are now streamed and archived, such as Idaho legislative sessions (via PBS) the Idaho Public Charter School Commission, the State Board of Education, and many more via Townhall Idaho.

The Idaho School Boards Association advises leaving the decision to local boards.

“Our guidance has always been that it is a good practice to get more patron participation – especially in the days of COVID, but it carries its own challenges and we encourage boards to decide at their annual meetings whether or not the streaming of their board meetings is considered a regular, consistent practice or a courtesy,” Idaho School Boards Administration deputy director Quinn Perry told Ed News in an email.

Perry also said some districts do not have technology directors and “have such terrible WiFi access that it makes sense they don’t stream.”

The Boise School District’s board streams, records and archives its meetings and finds more watch than attend in person. There were about 20 people in attendance at the Aug. 14 Boise school board meeting and at least 52 views on Boise’s YouTube channel.

“We believe in the importance of transparency and accountability in the decision-making process of our school board. By allowing the public to view regular monthly board meetings in real-time, it ensures that the decisions made by the board are open and accessible to all members of the community,” said Boise’s information director Dan Hollar. “Additionally, live streaming provides a convenient way for parents, teachers, staff and students to stay informed about important issues and developments in their school district. It also allows those who are unable to attend meetings in person to still participate.”

The American Falls School District sees it differently and has decided streaming discourages public participation and allows for outside interference. Streaming access almost never allows for public comment and it opens the door for videos to reside on social media, such as Facebook and YouTube.

“We have really good board meeting participation and people need to attend if they want to come and share their voice,” Jensen told EdNews. “Sometimes people that watch meetings who want to cause problems are not from the community. We have a close community, great support, and we don’t want that outside agitation.”

Chief Tahgee Elementary Academy, a Pocatello charter school, is reeling from a “sabotage” of its system this week, according to assistant director and principal Syd Crue. With its website down, Chief Tahgee is not accessible digitally, and its meeting archives are possibly lost. Crue said that this is quite the headache to deal with, especially in the first days of the 2023-2024 school year.

There is also an equipment expense and time component to recording board meetings. After moving to a new board room, the Twin Falls IT department purchased new equipment for $7,000 and is in the process of setting up new equipment and components necessary to continue streaming and posting to its YouTube page (a free service), according to district public information officer Eva Craner.

West Ada also uses the free YouTube service.

“With live streaming we are able to surpass expectations and provide audio, video and closed captions so that all of our patrons have access to meetings and may ‘participate’ at their level of comfort and at their convenience since the meetings are archived,” West Ada chief of staff Niki Scheppers said in an email.

Outside of the West Ada Education Association and its invited presenters, there were only two patrons at its Aug. 14 meeting, according to Scheppers. At least 89 people viewed that board meeting in the following two days.

Caldwell commits $149 per year for the district’s Zoom account and the board incorporated audio archiving into Board Policy 1525, which states the board “is to keep the public informed of its actions” via audio archived for one year beyond the date of the original meeting.

In addition to increasing public access, recorded meetings can help school board efficiency, according to Garden Valley board clerk Janelle Shannahan.

“Posting a recording helps cut down the time of processing a number of public records requests,” Shannahan said at the board meeting. “We can just post it and everyone then has access.”

“It’s not a big expense to the district,” vice chair George Simpson said at the Garden Valley board meeting.

“It’s not a big deal timewise,” Hennessey added.

Matt Denis

Matt Denis

Reporter Matt Denis is based in the Treasure Valley and has served as an educator and a journalist. Prior to national digital reporting and founding an arts and culture section in Eugene, Oregon, Matt worked as an English and history teacher in Detroit, San Diego, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. You can send news tips to [email protected].

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