New emergency public meeting rules define a quorum as a majority of members not counting those affected by COVID-19.
Gov. Kate Brown issued executive order 20-16 Thursday, allowing government bodies to meet remotely for as long as the emergency closures are in place.
Meetings and hearings can be held by phone, video or some other electronic or virtual means. The government body must allow the public to attend, but it does not have to provide a physical space for attendance. Government bodies still must take public testimony, but it doesn’t have to be in person.
“The short version is that the public still needs to be included and involved,” said OSBA Legislative Services Director Lori Sattenspiel. She has been heavily involved in the rule-making to ensure school board concerns were considered.
OSBA Board Development Director Steve Kelley said his team is coaching members with ways to move away from taking public comments in person.
Privacy and media rules for executive sessions still apply. If a body must physically meet, social distancing protocols should be met.
School boards across Oregon have already shifted to remote meetings.
The Grants Pass School Board has had two virtual meetings as of early this week.
Chair Gary Richardson, who has been doing virtual meetings for 20 years as part of his electrical engineering job, said sound quality should be school boards’ No. 1 priority. He recommended people call in with landlines whenever possible because the sound technology is better than with computer microphones.
His board uses a common computer screen display at the same time to keep everyone focused on the same thing.
The Grants Pass board also asks that people identify themselves before speaking.
Richardson said the new set-up has positives and negatives, but the board is trying to accentuate the upside. For instance, the board is considering holding more frequent but shorter meetings because the travel time is now zero.
“Stop trying to make them the same as an in-person meeting,” Richardson said.
The meeting rules will be especially important as school boards shift into budget season. The executive order says that if coronavirus precautions prevent a body from creating a budget on time, it may continue to operate on its previous budget while complying “as soon as reasonably practicable.”
Vale School Board Chair Randy Seals said his district is tentatively planning a prerecorded budget presentation so that people can submit questions and comments before the meeting.
Vale has had one Zoom board meeting already. He said one of the biggest problems is the home equipment of board members. They are also concerned about some people not having internet access to offer public comment.
Corvallis School Board Chair Sami Al-AbdRabbuh suggests school boards try a test run with any new technology without a quorum. He also suggested enlisting someone from the school district to run the technology during the meeting.
The Corvallis board has had two meetings with a combination of teleconferencing and a livestream on YouTube. Al-AbdRabbuh said virtual meetings allow more people to have access.
Their most recent meeting had more than 130 views in less than a week.