More than a year has passed since Fort Worth ISD community members have been able to physically attend a school board meeting. That is set to change Tuesday.
The district will open the board meeting to 50% occupancy, or about 100 people, excluding trustees and administrators, Fort Worth ISD spokesman Clint Bond told the Fort Worth Report.
If you go
What: Fort Worth ISD board of education special meeting
When: 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 11
Where: Fort Worth Independent School District Complex, 2903 Shotts Street, Fort Worth
“Masks and self-monitoring social distancing will be required,” Bond said. “Those members of the public who wish to address the board may do so in person. While we will discontinue virtual attendance, members of the public also may send in written statements to be read aloud at the meeting.”
For the past year, the public has been able to watch and sound off during school board meetings through the teleconferencing app Zoom. Trustees participated that way until their March 23 meeting — the first time they met in person.
At that meeting, Fort Worth resident Jennifer Trager questioned trustees about when the public would be able to go to the school district administration building and attend board meetings.
“Many local government entities are allowing the public to attend, such as the City Council and Commissioners Court,” Trager said.
Michael Ryan, the incoming District 7 trustee, said in-person attendance gives school board members a fuller picture of how their constituents truly feel.
“Video conferencing is very impersonal. The board answers to the citizens in FWISD and video meetings set up a divider with the public — just as it did with teachers and students — that makes it more difficult for them to gain a true feeling as to what the board and staff are focusing on,” said Ryan, who will be sworn in as a school board member Tuesday. “You can hide expressions and body language by cutting the screen … that you can’t do if you are in public.”
Board meetings will continue to be livestreamed on YouTube and Fort Worth ISD’s website, as well on Spectrum Channel 192.
Last month, Arlington ISD started allowing the public to attend meetings again, spokeswoman Anita Foster said. Like Fort Worth ISD, the Arlington school board went a year without an in-person audience.
“Some residents prefer to address the board of trustees in person and, as of April 8, 2021, that is possible again. We also have a Zoom option available for residents who prefer to share their voices online,” Foster said.
About 30 people can attend Arlington school board meetings. Arlington ISD requires attendees to wear a mask and practice social distancing.
“Being there in person and having face-to-face interaction with public officials is very important, and it’s good that governments are finding ways to get back to doing that and doing it safely,” said Kelley Shannon, executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas.
There may be another time when open meetings may have to shift back to a virtual environment, Shannon said. Lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic will come in handy should that need arise, she said.
In case that happens, the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas is pushing state lawmakers to approve a measure, House Bill 2683, outlining the requirements for public access for governmental entities to hold virtual meetings.
“That (bill) really puts into place some safeguards for when virtual meetings or online meetings are held that everyone can participate as needed,” Shannon said. “It makes sure that if it’s an online meeting, even people who don’t have internet would be able to get in on a telephone call in line and some measures like that.”
The House late last month unanimously approved the legislation, authored by state Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg. It is awaiting the Senate’s approval.
“We are certainly hoping that our senators understand the importance of passing these open government measures,” Shannon said. “Transparency is where it’s at, and most elected officials seem to understand that, but we need action.”
Nothing can replace talking to officials face to face.
“In-person, face-to-face meetings are very important,” Shannon said. “And it’s good that some governments are finding ways to get back to that.”