EASTON — After trying almost 90 minutes to resolve technical issues that prevented the public from viewing the August 12 meeting of the Talbot County Board of Education, the school district posted an announcement that the meeting, originally scheduled for 6 p.m., would go on as planned with a video posted for later public viewing.
Some members of the community expressed concern that the meeting would go on as usual.
The school board has held livestreamed meetings since March 25, coinciding with Gov. Larry Hogan’s executive order to limit public gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic, with public comments solicited prior to each meeting.
The main agenda item of the August 12 meeting was the board's discussing and giving its final approval of the recovery plan for reopening Talbot public schools.
The agenda, along with links to supporting documents and 15 written public comments, was posted on the the TCPS website.
Commenters on the @TalbotCountyPublicSchools Facebook page were mostly patient with the process. Thunderstorms had moved through the area late Wednesday afternoon, but it is not known whether they played a role in the tech glitch.
Shortly before 6:30 p.m., the TCPS posted its first announcement of technical issues: “Please be advised that we are experiencing technical difficulties with live streaming the Board of Education Meeting. We will provide an update as soon as possible.”
A second announcement was posted about 20 minutes later, followed by a third shortly after: “The Board of Education Meeting has not started due to live-stream issues. We are working to resolve and will post as soon as the meeting begins! Thank you for your patience!”
Finally, TCPS posted this notice shortly before 7:30 p.m.: “Board Meeting Update: Due to technical difficulties with our live streaming system, we are now going to record the meeting with an abbreviated agenda upload it to the website after it is over.”
Talbot County Education Association President Andy Burke, who had been monitoring the progress of the meeting’s delay on Facebook, expressed concern. “Open meetings act concern. Please advise. Thank you,” he posted.
Richard Potter posted a similar comment. “This is a direct violation of the Open Meeting Act,” he posted. “The meeting should be postponed until technical issue is resolved. All business pertaining to the interest of the public should be done in the public with full transparency.”
A couple of commenters linked the board meeting technical issues to the school board’s July 30 decision to recommend virtual learning for at least the first week of school.
“Soooo technical difficulties with online streaming, but this is how you expect our kids to learn and are going to hold them accountable....,” wrote Becky Hutchison.
“Unacceptable!,” Angie Saunders posted. “Tell me why again it’s not safe to have an open board meeting but it’s safe enough to open schools to kids in the second week of school???”
Following the school board’s decision to proceed with the meeting, with a subsequent videotape to be posted on TCPS’s website, Burke shared a statement with The Star Democrat.
“While we understand that unforeseen technical issues arise upon occasion, we do expect that the community’s voice of Staff and Parents be heard loud and clear,” Burke stated. “Our message is that COVID-19 is a pandemic like nothing seen in about 100 years.”
“We must respect the science and we must acknowledge that we are not yet safely to a point where we place staff and students into enclosed spaces,” Burke wrote. “The large majority of our membership have requested a virtual opening for one semester to monitor COVID-19. We ask that our employer protect us.“
By 10 p.m., the meeting videotape had not yet been posted on the district website.
To read the recovery plan and supporting documents, visit https://www.tcps.k12.md.us/. To watch a video recording of the August 12 meeting when it becomes available, visit the website, click on the “Board” tab, then in the dropdown box, click on “Bd Meeting Agendas, Minutes and Video.”