With Colorado under shut in orders, local elected bodies are changing how they conduct public business.
In most cases, local school boards are no longer hosting a time to hear public comment during their virtual meetings, instead suggesting that public feedback be submitted in writing, and because of the emergency situation, several districts are changing meeting schedules, making it potentially tricky for the public to keep up.
But Colorado’s open meetings laws still apply when boards are meeting virtually. Districts must still provide notice of their meetings, and have a way for the public to watch or listen in.
Last month, the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition joined several other organizations in signing a national statement asking government bodies to defer making noncritical policy decisions “until full and meaningful public involvement can be guaranteed.”
If business can’t be postponed, the organizations suggest that the public bodies should notify the public and explain how to participate remotely, use technology to maximize “real-time public engagement,” and promptly post the recording of the meeting online.
Several school boards in Colorado already had a way to livestream and post recordings of their meetings online, but even those processes are being adjusted to allow for school board members and the public to participate remotely. At least one district is looking at ways to provide translation during the video meetings, and officials from several others said they are still looking at ways to incorporate public comment.
Aurora school board President Kayla Armstrong-Romero said that the work is “trial and error” just like everything else that has changed in schools these days.
Aurora’s school board was one of the first to have a virtual school board meeting, on March 24. Armstrong-Romero said that the livestream had about 25 people watching — up from three or four during previous livesteams of in-person meetings.
“It’s still not great. None of this has been ideal,” Armstrong-Romero said. “We really want to engage the community, especially now in these uncertain times. If the public has any ideas, please reach out.”
Below, we list some guidance on participating in local school board meetings, as well as the State Board of Education’s meetings and how to watch online.
The Denver school board typically has three work sessions, one of which is focused on budget issues, and one regular meeting with public comment every month, though the schedule may change during this time. The first one, the finance and audit meeting, is scheduled for April 13. The monthly focus on achievement meeting is scheduled for April 16. The board’s regular work session and regular work meeting are scheduled for April 20 and April 30. District spokesperson Winna Maclaren said the meeting will still have time for public comment, but officials are still determining what that might look like.
For now, the district is encouraging the public to submit written comments, or to follow the board on Facebook, which has been doing live video updates at 10 a.m. daily for the past few weeks. “Anyone watching can submit questions and comments via the chat feature and the BOE and the superintendent are answering them in real time,” Maclaren said.
Public comment: Email firstname.lastname@example.org
The board had a regular meeting April 2 that was “abbreviated to critical items only,” including a budget presentation and a closed-door executive session about security arrangements.
The next meeting is a study session scheduled for April 8 at 8:30 a.m. and will be livestreamed. The board will receive an update regarding the district’s remote learning work and plans for graduations.
The Jeffco district typically posts written communication to school board members online as part of the public agenda every month, and district officials said that will continue “with the variation that we will add any written comments received up until 3 p.m. … before the meeting.” The district is also looking at ways to post video comments if the board continues to meet remotely in May.
Public comment: Email the board at email@example.com. Or send mail to 1829 Denver West Dr., Golden CO 80401. The listing of public correspondence is not discussed as part of the regular business meeting. If addressed to individual board members and not provided to the board office, the correspondence will not be included in the public agenda.
The district already held a brief remote board meeting two weeks ago and is scheduled to have another meeting Tuesday at 6 p.m. The agenda is full this time with a vote to name a new school, and first readings for several contracts including a proposal to modify a charter school’s contract. The meeting will also include an update on the budget and the district’s response to the health crisis, including the remote learning plan.
Aurora’s school board is encouraging the public to submit written public comments. Those comments will become public when they are posted with the minutes of each meeting, usually about a month after the meeting, but officials said the comments will be available to board members prior to their meeting.
Public comment: Email Claudia Paz-Blossick, assistant to the board of education, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Westminster school board cancelled its last regular scheduled meeting and instead has held six special meetings including study sessions and closed-door executive sessions in the last two weeks. Typically the board has two meetings per month. District officials said there is no list people can join to be notified of the meetings, but agendas are posted on the district’s website.
One of the meetings was a question-and-answer virtual town hall meeting. Officials said that the meeting was recorded and will be posted online. The district will also upload a version with Spanish translation, and is looking into simultaneous translation options for future video meetings.
A district spokesman said the district is still figuring out how to incorporate public comment into its regular meetings. The board’s next regular meeting is April 14.
The recording of the Westminster school board’s last regular meeting was posted on the district’s YouTube page, here.
The Adams 14 school board is now livestreaming its board meetings. Previously meetings were recorded and later posted online. Board President Ramona Lewis said the board is having a meeting Wednesday to discuss how to incorporate public comment into its meetings.
At a special meeting last week, a notice at the beginning of the meeting said the district is looking into ways to offer simultaneous Spanish translation, and said that it may at least be that the district would post a Spanish video version of the meetings 24 hours after.
The next regular meeting is April 14.
The State Board of Education will have a one-day meeting April 8, instead of the typical two-day monthly meeting. One of the first items on the agenda is a vote to suspend the board’s regular operating procedures. There will be no public comment time on the agenda, but the public may submit comments in writing.
To access the meeting: Go to: https://cdeinfotech.adobeconnect.com/sbe. Choose to open in application and mute computer audio, then call: 866-236-6234, PIN: 8778# to hear audio.