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Some parents are wondering what the Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District has to hide.
Unlike the county, local cities and school districts, the District does not broadcast their Board of Education meetings on Zoom or YouTube or on their website.
Placentia school district officials are also no longer allowing people to call in to the meeting to listen at a time when public health officials have been urging people to stay home to slow the spread of the Coronavirus.
Parents who wish to participate and watch today’s school district board of education meeting at 7:00 p.m. have to physically show up and take their chances with the virus if they want their voices heard.
Some people have taken it upon themselves to live stream the meeting on Facebook including Misty Janssen, a parent who ran for a seat on the board in the November election, and two other candidates who ran to represent Area three in the district. They’re also taking notes and publishing them on that page.
“Hundreds of people are watching them,” Janssen said about the live streams.
Janssen told the Voice of OC that this is a nonpartisan issue and people in the district have felt they have not been given the information needed to get involved with board decisions and have their voices heard.
“It always seemed weird when I would go to the school board meetings, especially since COVID, knowing that other school districts almost instantly started broadcasting their school board meetings and ours was very reluctant to do it,” Janssen said.
Other parents aren’t comfortable with going in person and are also urging the district to video broadcast the meetings.
“I’m respecting the stay at home order,” Brooke Harper, a parent of a first grade student in the district, told the Voice of OC Monday. “I don’t want to be out in public. I’m trying to stop the spread of this.”
In Placentia, there have been over 4,000 cases of the virus and in Yorba Linda there’s been almost 3,900 cases, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency.
Pete Perez, who worked for 30 years as a Jazz Band teacher at Valencia High School in the district, died on Monday after being diagnosed with the virus.
The district had been holding meetings telephonically at the end of 2020 due to regional shutdown with the state urging residents to stay home but those orders were lifted in January.
The district also held meetings telephonically at the beginning of the pandemic through June.
At that time public comments had to be submitted electronically in written form but those comments weren’t read out loud instead the name of the commenter and the topic of the comment was read into the record.
Janssen told the Voice of OC that the comments were posted in their entirety on the district’s website.
From July through November the meetings could only be attended in person, according to an email from Alyssa Griffiths, the Public and Media Relations Specialist for the district.
“This shift back to a modified traditional meeting setting comes following Governor Gavin Newsom’s and the California Department of Public Health’s announcement lifting regional stay-at-home orders on January 25, 2021,” reads Griffith’s email.
Board of Education Trustee Shawn Youngblood told the Voice of OC in an email that despite the board meeting being only accessible through physical attendance the room will be “sliced up to accommodate 25% of normal capacity allowed, due to social distancing.”
“The board has requested the reason that we cannot have live streaming of these meetings, and we are still waiting for the answer,” he added in his email.
Leandra Blades, another trustee, told the Voice of OC in an email that this was not a board decision.
Blades recently came under fire for attending a rally for Donald Trump in D.C. that preceded riots at the Capitol building. She has said in the past she never entered the Capitol.
Harper called the shift away from allowing a call in option “absurd”.
“They’ve been getting three to five comments for the last two meetings saying can you start broadcasting using video and their response is to stop broadcasting using the phone. It’s insane,” she said. “It certainly flies against the spirit of the Brown Act.”
Harper said even when parents could call in to the meeting there were issues with bad audio and difficulty with identifying speakers.
Meanwhile the district is providing Zoom options for students in remote learning.
Orange County public agencies have struggled in the past to provide opportunities for residents to comment on policy decisions during the pandemic.
The Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District sets aside a maximum of 30 minutes for public comments with speakers getting a maximum of five minutes to address the board.
The open session portion of the meeting starts today at 7:00 p.m.
Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.