April 20 — 5:18 pm, 2020

Board members urge public participation in virtual meetings

"We are working hard to ensure that community voices are heard."

Julia Danzy and Mallory Fix-Lopez

At a Board of Education committee meeting in January, parent advocate Dana Carter addresses the safety of children and staff members.

Recently, a school counselor reached out to share some of the challenges his school is facing during this unprecedented time and to suggest ways of addressing these challenges. He closed the letter by writing: “I trust that you know the importance of community voice in decision making, and the communication of these decisions back to community members.”

For Board members, these words weigh heavily. At all times, the challenge of receiving and incorporating diverse public opinion into our actions is a responsibility we take seriously. At this moment, when all of the ways that we communicate and share information are being tested, this challenge becomes crucial.

During the last several weeks, the Board has worked diligently to meet the challenge of inviting public voice when public health guidelines have called for social distancing. At our first remote meeting on March 26, we invited the public to participate by submitting written comments via our website, email, and transcribed voicemail. Board members then read into the record all correspondence during the public comments section of the meeting. We also, at the suggestion of many community members, invited individuals to share comments and questions during the meeting via Twitter and email. This outreach was also then shared by Board members during the meeting.

Believing we can improve upon this format, the Board will be switching to a remote-conferencing platform, Zoom Meetings, to invite and incorporate public voice in real time at our next committee meeting and budget hearing on April 23. If this platform works well, we will continue using it for upcoming public meetings until we may once again hold meetings in person.

We are working hard to ensure that community voices are heard and incorporated into our decision-making as the Board conducts the School District’s business in safe ways that align with public health guidelines. We know that we have more to learn about communicating and conducting business remotely, just as other boards around the country are taking on this challenge too. We welcome your suggestions for how we can continue to grow in this area.

Please reach out to schoolboard@philasd.org or call 215-400-4010 and leave us a message with your ideas. For the latest Board news and to find specifics on our upcoming meetings, please visit our webpage at philasd.org/schoolboard or follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Thank you.

Julia Danzy and Mallory Fix-Lopez are members of Philadelphia’s Board of Education. They co-chair the Board’s District Partnerships & Community Engagement Committee.

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