D233 board rejects recording meetings, citing expense and legalities

After more than two years of research and debate, the H-F High School District 233 board voted down a proposal to videotape the board’s meetings.
 
The roll call at the Tuesday, Sept. 17, meeting was four "no" votes from board president Steve Anderson and members Gerald Pauling, Debbie Berman and Nate Legardy, with two "yes" votes from members Annette Bannon and Beth Larocca. Member Pam Jackson, who won election in April, abstained, saying she didn’t have enough information to cast a vote.
 
Bannon asked Superintendent Von Mansfield to include videotaping on the agenda. She said she wasn’t aware it would be presented as a recommendation, “not that I disagree with it.”
 
The proposal has been studied by the Planning Committee, chaired by Berman, and has been discussed by the full board several times. 

The Planning Committee had spent a significant amount of time going "over and over looking at every option," Berman said. She was ready to take a vote to finally get a decision.
 
When board members began questioning the proposal, they learned the recommendation for videotaping:
  • Did not outline a specific plan for who at Homewood-Flossmoor High School would be responsible for recording the meetings.
  • Would be an additional expense, including recording and making certain the recordings would be part of the school’s record in perpetuity.
  • Did not list who would be responsible for storing the recordings.
  • Did not address how the project would meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, such as including closed captioning.
 
And Berman urged the board to consider the recommendations from two law firms that looked at the legalities of videotaping and broadcasting the meetings via the school’s website. She said both firms, hired independently from one another, told the board there were many legal risks to the proposal.
 
“I’m troubled that this is being put forward in this fashion,” Legardy said. “I’m hoping the members of this board would consider those two issues — legal ramifications and cost.”
 
Larocca said she had a list of 30 school boards that record meetings, including the Chicago Public Schools. Flossmoor District 161 started taping meetings in 2016. She considered the proposal a matter of the board being as transparent as possible. 
 
Berman said there are districts videotaping, but she still urged the board to side with caution noting the “thousands of cases where districts have been sued” and sometimes involving the U.S. Department of Education.

"We should use our educated judgment for what's best for this school district, and as stewards for the school," she told fellow board members. Spending money on videotaping isn't going to benefit the students and may, in the end, cost the district money in court settlements, she said.
 
“I’m totally in favor of being as communicative as we can be with the community. Lack of videotaping is not a lack of transparency. We have to stop this,” Berman said. “There are many ways to be transparent.”
 
The Strategic Plan, adopted in 2018, called for establishing a Community Relations Committee. Berman urged the board to give the committee time to bring suggestions forward on how to involve the community with the high school.

Christopher Sawyer of Flossmoor, who has advocated videotaping, said the issue "is not going to simply die forever because of four 'no' votes." He sees the issue as being "about transparency in our government. It is also about effective communication and accountability."

Sawyer argues the Planning Committee "never presented any evidence of those 'costs' to the entire board in a public meeting. What is too costly?  We do not have documentation of the estimated cost for videoing the meeting ... video equipment and personnel, cost for closed captioning the video, cost for posting and storing the video. How could any board member vote without the estimated cost?" he wondered.

"The bigger question is: Why didn't the Planning Committee chair supply specifics publicly on the estimated costs if this issue has been fully vetted? Why not table voting as a board (on the recommendation) until more information was available?" he told the Chronicle by email. And he said the school board's attorney said the district could videotape, yet the Planning Committee found two attorneys who gave the opposite opinion.
 

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