Answers to frequently asked questions about Virtual School Committee meetings and Open Meeting Law.
What are the changes to the Open Meeting Law that the Governor has authorized?
- It is not necessary to have a physical quorum present and the Chair need not be physically present.
- The public must have access to the meeting, but this access can be virtual. The meeting can be streamed or the public can access the meeting through a link. Under extraordinary circumstances where live access is not possible, a recording or transcript of the meeting must be made public.
What has not changed?
- The posting requirements remain the same.
- Minutes of the meeting must be produced.
- Other requirements for remote participation remain in place:
- All meeting participants must be able to hear each other
- Call the roll at the beginning of the meeting, so that everyone is clear on who is present
- All votes must be roll call votes
- If the meeting is an Executive Session, all participants must confirm that they are alone in the room.
What about public comment periods or public participation?
While most committees have public comment as an agenda item, it is not a requirement of the Open Meeting Law. For remote meetings, a committee may choose to leave this item off the agenda. Or, consider providing an avenue for members of the public to get comments and questions to the committee to be read at the meeting. This could be done by providing an email address on the website specifically for comments and questions at the meeting. Some committees are managing public comment via telephone calls or by using vehicles such as chat windows. There are advantages and pitfalls to the various options, so be prepared for some trial and error to determine what might work best for your committee.
Etiquette for a Remote Meeting
For some professionals, a remote meeting is nothing new. Here are a few guidelines to follow:
- • Make sure you are in a quiet location, without background noise and distractions that may interfere with the meeting.
- Mute yourself when you enter the meeting and stay muted unless you are speaking.
- If you are late, don’t disrupt the meeting by announcing your arrival. Wait for the Chair to acknowledge your arrival.
- If the meeting includes video, remember that, even if you are in your home, you are still participating in a public meeting and that you are still visible to the public. Dress appropriately. Don’t distract others by walking around, snacking, or other activities that you would not do in a regular public meeting.
- Be aware of lighting. When the lighting is behind you, you may appear in shadow to other participants.
- Find a quiet location, where you will not be interrupted, and remind others in the household of the meeting time and expected duration to help avoid distractions.
- Be aware of what may be going on behind you, and be patient with others if there are distractions in the background as people learn how to navigate.
Don’t forget, this is still a public meeting under the Open Meeting Law. Many virtual services have chat windows. Just like texting or passing notes during a meeting opens the potential for creating a public record, so does the chat function. Avoid using it, unless addressing a technical issue to someone managing the meeting. Let members of the public who may be viewing the meeting know that it is not a vehicle for communicating with the Committee during the course of the meeting.
How is chairing the virtual meeting different than chairing a regular meeting?
Depending on the service used, the Chair may be running the meeting and managing the technical aspects. If the Chair is new to this, they may have someone else manage the meeting from the standpoint of muting and unmuting people and determining who is on the screen at any given point in time, etc.
Some Chairs have found that it can be helpful to manage discussions a bit differently. Rather than the Chair calling on someone waiting to be recognized, the Chair might call on each member in turn to comment or ask questions, cycling through as many times as necessary to ensure everyone gets a chance to speak. For a larger committee, this might work particularly well.
Both chairing and participating in a virtual public meeting is new for everyone. Committees are finding that it is an effective vehicle for taking care of necessary business during this unprecedented time. MASC will continue to provide guidance and best practices as we learn together.