The following topics are covered on this page
School Board Meetings Are Public Meetings
Six Types of School Board Meetings
Notice of Meetings and Agendas
Public Comments and Participation
Getting a Response from the School Board
See also Board Governance Culture Policy CG-12, under Meetings
Under the Washington State Open Public Meetings Act, all School Board meetings are open to the public, with some exceptions noted below.
Whenever three or more Board members (also called a quorum or a majority) get together and discuss District business, it is a public meeting and must be announced to the public 24-hours in advance. It is permissible for them to be at another meeting or even travel together, provided they do not discuss District business. Board members must also be careful to avoid emails with "Reply to All" because that could trigger a violation of the Act, as could one Board member contacting other Board members in a series to discuss the same business one-on-one.
Except as noted below, the proposed agenda for Board meetings must also be published in advance.
SK School Board meetings are covered by Policy CG-12 and conducted in accordance with the most current edition of Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised.
Regular meetings occur at the time and place designated in Board policy, currently the first and third Wednesdays of each month, at 5:00 p.m., at the District headquarters. No separate public notice is required for each of these meetings because the notice is provided in policy. However the proposed agenda must be published 24-hours in advance. Except for some actions that require a first and second reading, it is permissible for the Board to take final action at a regular meeting on matters that were not published on the proposed agenda.
Special meetings are similar to Regular meetings but occur at times and places other than Regular Meeting, Public notice must be given with the proposed agenda and final action may only be taken on those items on the proposed agenda., Items not on the posted agenda may be discussed but final action may not be taken.
Executive Sessions are confidential and closed to the public. They are permitted only for specific topics, such as discussing potential litigation, real estate transactions, evaluation of or charges against an employee or official, etc. No final action may be taken in an Executive Session and the general purpose of the Executive Session must be announced in a public meeting.
Work/Study Sessions are Special Meetings that are conducted more informally and typically address specific topics in detail. Board training sessions are Work/Study Sessions. No final action can be taken at Work/Study Sessions.
Exempt Meetings are not subject to the Open Public Meetings Act and need not be announced or open to the public. They are used for urgent business such the Board's response to the teachers' union voting not to return to school five days later because of COVID-19.
These are not designated business meetings of the Board but publicly noticed occasions when a majority of the Board will be in attendance and may discuss District or Board matters. Under the Open Public Meetings Act, these occasions must have public notice and are open to the public. Examples would be meeting for a group photo or attendance at another event such as a graduation ceremony.
Traditionally, school board meetings had always been held in person, with all board members and participants in the same room, together with the public there to view the meeting. Prior to COVID, the South Kitsap School Board began streaming its meetings to the public, but any public comment at the meetings was received only in person.
A remote meeting is not a different type of meeting apart from the six types listed above, but is simply the format which any type of meeting may utilize. The Board policy, even before COVID, permitted remote meetings but did not address public comment or public viewing under such a format.
With the onset COVID in the Spring of 2020, all meetings became remote and in person meetings were prohibited. Both Zoom and Facebook were initially used. When streamed via Facebook, the audience can listen and watch only, without any input into the meeting. (See also discussion of public comment below.) With Zoom, viewers could participate, but this led to "zoom-bombing" in which individuals interrupted the meetings with disruptive profane images and audio. Therefore a Zoom Webinar format was then used, in which the participants are divided into "Panelists" who can speak and "Participants" who can view and listen only. When a "participant" was invited to make public comment, they had to be promoted to panelist temporarily so that they could speak and be seen.
With COVID restrictions being relaxed, in person meetings are now permissible, but must still be made available remotely until the Governor's emergency proclamations expired. Now there is be no legal requirement for the Board to stream their meetings or take public comment remotely, but is encouraged under the revised Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA), RCW 42.30.
The South Kitsap School Board began to have in person meetings in March of 2021, but went back to remote meetings by a vote of 3 to 1 on October 5, 2021. One of the reasons for the decision was the size of the board meeting room and concerns over crowd control after an incident as the September 15, 2021 meeting.
At the March 16, 2021 meeting, Director Daily's motion to return to in person meetings was defeated by a vote of 1 to 4. Some of the pros and cons of the two meeting formats are listed below. This is based on the premise that both in person and remote meetings will be streamed online to the public.
On April 20, 2022 the Board voted to return to in person meetings.
Add additional pros and cons with the maroon comment butter in the lower right.
Board meetings are announced on the main page of the District's website, and posted by the front door on the District offices. Information is given there on how to attend or access the meeting.
The agenda for the meeting can be found in BoardDocs from the District's website under the School Board. Within BoardDocs, the agenda for the upcoming meeting can be found, together with minutes, agendas, and videos of past meetings.
The agenda is typically prepared the week before the meeting by the Baord Presidents, in consultation with the Superintendent and other Board members. It will be usually be posted on BoardDocs 48-hours before the meeting, but there still may be additions and changes before the meeting,
At the beginning of each Board meeting the agenda is adopted and there may be more additions or changes at that time.
The agenda on BoardDocs also contains supporting documents most of which are available to the public, but some with confidential information are available only to the Board.
Why Public Comment
If the school district consisted of only a few dozen families, as some districts in Washington State do, it would be feasible to have community meetings monthly at which the entire community could discuss and make decisions for the schools.
South Kitsap School District has nearly 10,000 students and is the largest employer in Kitsap County south of Sinclair Inlet. For this reason, voters elect a school board to represent them and make the policy decisions regarding the schools.
While the Board is required by law to allow the public to view the meetings anonymously, the Board is not required to accept public comment, except for designated public hearings, such as prior to the adoption of an annual budget. Most school boards do nevertheless allow a period for public comment in their meetings.
All citizens have a constitutional right to petition their government for redress of grievances, but this is not extended to a right to public comment at a school board meeting. All members of the School Board have email and generally respond to individual emails from citizens with concerns. A concerned citizen could arrange to speak to individual board members either by phone or in person.
Why No Dialogue with the Board
Most questions asked of the board at meetings fall into two categories, administrative issues and policy issues. Administrative issues, such as "how can I get my child enrolled in kindergarten before the normal age", are typically referred to the Superintendent for a response or action. Other technical questions are also normally referred to the Superintendent. Questions on policy issues can be either rhetorical (for debate purposes and not expecting a direct response), or can ask for the Board's response to a specific question. Such questions may not be adequately addressed with a simple answer and a board member may need to research the issue before responding. If the question is requesting that the Board take a specific stand on an issue, that can only be addressed by the Board taking action by a majority decision.
One Board member cannot speak for the Board. The Board only makes decisions after proper deliberation and vote.
Another reason for not having a dialog between citizens and the Board during Board meetings in simply practical. Occasionally the Board will schedule a community question and answer session with the public, although these can be conducted by the Superintendent alone. Allowing public dialogue with the Board during the board meetings would extend the meeting times excessively. The purpose of the meeting is for the Board to conduct its business. Dialogue with citizens can take place outside of the Board meeting.
Public comment is intended to provide an opportunity for individuals to communicate publicly to the Board. It is not intended to be a public forum for the individuals to talk to the public about the Board.
Similarly, when the District sponsors a public Facebook page, public comments are not enabled. To allow public comment would constitute the creation of a public forum and the District would have limited control over the content of the comments but would nevertheless need to monitor the site to delete highly offensive comments or note false factual statements. That would then put the District in a censorship role.
Comments Regarding Individual Persons
Previously Board policy prohibited public comment that was personally directed. This policy has been changed and it is now permissible to use public comment to inform the Board about specific individuals, or even to publicly criticize board members or district personnel, provided the comments are civil. Allegations against specific employees are best handled administratively before coming to the Board.
The Public Comment Process
Just prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Board began streaming its meetings to the public. Public comment was taken only in person.
When the Board meetings were exclusively via Zoom, various methods of public participation were tried. Full public participation was tried twice and failed due to "Zoom bombing" when the meetings were invaded by pornographic hackers. Thus the public was placed in listen only mode. A simultaneous broadcast on Facebook in addition to the Zoom feed was also tried, but there was no control over the appropriateness of the Facebook comments, and the Facebook experience became more like an in-person meeting in which the audience continuously talks loudly with each others about the meeting, distracting others from the actual business of the meeting.
For a while public comment was allowed in the Zoom chat feature with comments being read to the public during the meeting.
Eventually public comment was allowed by advance registration. Those wishing to make public comment were admitted into the participant portion of the meeting for their comments.
When the meetings were being held with the Board and staff in-person and most of the audience listening in on Zoom, public comment via Zoom was taken by prior appointment and the individuals could join the Zoom meeting for their comments. Written comments are taken by email, but are not read at the meeting or shared publicly. Public comment is also taken in-person normally. Those wishing to address the Board in person are asked to fill out a yellow card identifying themselves for the record.
When the pandemic restrictions are over and the Board returns to all in-person meetings, public comment will may be taken only in-person with the viewing audience being in listen-only mode, however the Board has not made a decision yet on that issue.
While the Board can legally place restrictions on public comment such as time limits, topics, and manner and civility of the comment, it can not restrict pubic comment based upon the viewpoint of the comments. For example, it can not allow praise but prohibit criticism.
The 2022 Legislature made changes to the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) that impact Public Comment at meetings.
Click here for a summary of the changes, and here for Director Berg's proposed policy revision.
(The discussion to the left was written prior to the 2022 changes to the OPMA.)
Individuals who address school board meetings are sometimes frustrated by the lack of response to their questions or requests. The Bremerton, North Kitsap, Central Kitsap, and South Kitsap School Districts all have policies that limit responses from the board during the meeting public comment portions.
School board directors are elected to oversee the operation of their districts. Individual directors have no authority to speak for their board. Board decisions must be made by the board as a whole. If individual directors were to respond during meetings, they would be speaking individually and not for the board. Many questions require research or more than a yes or no response.
For the board to respond as a whole, it would require discussion and a vote on a motion, and only directors make motions the meetings. The public do not introduce motions any more than bills are introduced in the legislature by a public rally on the capitol steps. In order to get an official response from the board, it is necessary to convince an individual director to introduce a motion and/or place it on the board agenda. Personal contact with school board directors, in person, or by telephone or email are the best ways to promote board action.
Rallies and demonstrations may be useful to promote public interest, but they are not persuasive evidence of public support for a particular cause or position. Thoughtful, civil communications to directors individually are most effective.
Copyright © 2021, 2022 John R. Berg - All Rights Reserved.