Orange County’s Board of Supervisors, cities and some school districts are broadcasting meetings on their websites, on YouTube or are allowing people to attend on Zoom.
The Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District is not.
The district is no longer allowing people to call-in to board of education meetings either at a time when public health officials are urging people to stay home.
Some parents have been live streaming the meetings on their own and now the board of education could soon decide if the district will do the same.
At the board’s Tuesday meeting, Trustee Leandra Blades called for a discussion on live streaming to be put on the agenda of the panel’s next session. Parents have been clamoring for video broadcasting and wondering what the district has to hide.
“With all the emails we’ve been receiving, our community wants to have access to our meetings,” Blades said from the dais. “I know that we’ve been looking into it and whatnot but let’s take a vote so we can either move forward or not move forward with it but I think our community deserves an answer on that.”
At that same meeting some people called for Blades’s resignation. The trustee has been criticized recently for attending a rally for Donald Trump in Washington, D.C. that preceded the Jan. 6 riots at the Capitol building. She has said in the past she never entered the Capitol.
One parent said that broadcasting meetings should be standard practice.
“My mom’s knitting club in Laguna woods, where the average age is 75.6 years, has somehow found the IT chops to meet on Zoom once a week so the inability of this board to broadcast its meetings especially during a pandemic is concerning,” the parent told trustees during public comments.
One parent, who volunteered with PTA and whose children graduated from schools in the district, said it’s important to encourage engagement and trust between the school district and community at large.
“One simple and effective way to do this is to broadcast school board meetings in real time using a service like Zoom or YouTube. Before I got involved, I didn’t know what happened in this room but I can tell you, if I had the ability to see these at home I could have had a greater understanding of what was happening in this room,” the parent said.
Multiple candidates vying for a seat on the district’s school board ran on transparency and accountability platforms in the November election.
Misty Janssen, one of the candidates and a parent in the district, said the effort to get the district to broadcast the meetings has bipartisan support.
She, as well as two other people who ran against her in 2020, Susan Metcalf and Mike Nicosia, have been broadcasting the meetings since December on Facebook.
The trio are also taking notes and publishing them on the forum. Janssen said the Facebook account was once her campaign page but transitioned to “Placentia Yorba Linda – Better Together” page to provide people with the information they craved.
“It’s just about information and how people can get involved to make a tangible impact like things that they can do in our community to make it better and so I think … one of the ways that we can do that is by broadcasting,” Janssen told the Voice of OC before Tuesday’s meeting.
At one point over 150 people tuned in to the Facebook live streaming of the board meeting.
Orange County public agencies have struggled in the past to provide opportunities for residents to comment on policy decisions during the pandemic.
The district has been jumping back and forth from holding meetings telephonically to in person throughout the pandemic.
Trustees met telephonically at the beginning of the pandemic through June and then shifted back to in-person meetings only from July through November. After that, the district started holding meetings by telephone due to a regional shutdown with the state urging residents to stay home.
Those orders were lifted on Jan. 25 and the board resumed in-person meetings Tuesday.
“Then all of a sudden they have said ‘No, we will not broadcast it audibly and if you want to make a comment you have to come in person and make the comment in person’ and I think that that is very worrisome for a lot of people,” Janssen said.
When meetings were held telephonically, public comments had to be submitted electronically but they weren’t read out loud. Instead, only the name of the commenter and the topic of the comment was read out loud during the meetings.
Janssen told the Voice of OC that the comments were posted in their entirety on the district’s website.
The next Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District board of education meeting will be held March 9.
Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.