The Arlington School Board’s Return to Normal

The+Arlington+School+Board+hosts+an+in-person+meeting+on+Feb.+14.+Meetings+are+hosted+in-person+with+attendees+in+the+BPAC%2C+along+with+members+joining+via+zoom+as+shown+in+the+above+image.+

Sera

The Arlington School Board hosts an in-person meeting on Feb. 14. Meetings are hosted in-person with attendees in the BPAC, along with members joining via zoom as shown in the above image.

Sera Sabol, Editorial Board

On Jan. 24, an Arlington resident attended the first in-person board meeting since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, without a mask. After only five minutes the board went into recess for an hour after voting to hold the meeting via Zoom to adhere to the guidelines set forth by the state’s Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) which requires all attendees to wear a mask. 

Two weeks later, on Feb. 14, the board hosted a successful in-person meeting for the first time in two years—marking a new milestone in Arlington’s transition away from the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the beginning of pandemic, masks have been encouraged to prevent the spread of the deadly virus, causing many to feel tired of this practice.

“As much as we are all tired of wearing masks, we still have to enforce wearing masks at public school board meetings according to the law until the mandate expires,” Mary Levesque, board president and director of district four, said. 

Masking may soon come to an end though; in a recent proclamation Gov. Jay Inslee said that following March 11, 2022, masks will no longer be required in a school setting. This proclamation indicates that community members will not be required to wear masks at board meetings after that date. 

The district moved the location of the last two board meetings to the BPAC. This is to allow for more space to accommodate social distancing guidelines.

“It is a dynamic process for us. Changing locations of the board meeting, from our normal boardroom to the BPAC has added challenges,” Mike Ray, the director of district 1, said. “An entire new venue, away from the normal staff offices, is difficult. Moving the equipment both on and then off the stage is difficult.” 

Without the prospect of a global pandemic, the board viewed the idea of recording the meetings to be viewed later as a positive step forward. This step was greatly accelerated with the shifting to remote meetings two years ago. 

“I had always wanted to see board meetings recorded so they could be able to be accessed later for people who couldn’t make it,” Levesque said. “I love that the meetings are now recorded on YouTube and can be reviewed later, so we can have more families, staff and students learning about our efforts to help all students achieve their full potential.”

Before becoming a board member Mary Levesque attended board meetings for multiple years, where there was lackluster attendance.

“There were only a couple of people every once in a while at those meetings,” Levesque said. Now board meetings hosted remotely will often see over 100 participants. Remote meetings being hosted jointly with in-person meetings will allow for this increased attendance to continue. 

The increase in attendance is likely due to the convenience that comes with being able to join meetings from home. 

“[I] still like the flexibility that remote meetings provide, however now they are less desirable. Remote meetings, after such a long time (almost two years) have made it feel less connected with the schools and community,” Ray said. “…conducting business entirely remote I feel is less productive, and less engaged.” 

Staying at home brought its own set of challenges for the board members, such as distractions from family members.

“There were many long evenings of ignoring my family when they needed something, and they would be dancing and laughing, and trying to steal away my focus and attention. And sometimes, my cat was walking across the keyboard,” Levesque said. “It was hard to tell how the other board members were doing if their cameras were off and they stayed on mute. Moving back in person, took me away from my distractions at home, which allowed me to focus on the meeting in person better.”

But like students, they also learned from the experience of remote meetings.

“We learned how to sign forms online, have hearty discussions, renew contracts, decide on budgets, enrollments, and do what was necessary to keep the district’s basic business going,” Levesque said.  

In spite of the challenges, the board looks forward to the opportunity to continue leading the district, now in an improved in-person format.

“We faced many challenges and continue to do so. Technology challenges are constant. Not being able to see and interact with fellow staff was difficult, and I hope that will be resolved by having in-person meetings,” Ray Said. “Overall, in-person meetings are great, and we are so fortunate to be able to return to them.”

As the district looks to the future, the board encourages students to speak out about their experiences at school.

“I would love to hear from more students about how their learning is going,” Levesque said. “We need to know how well things are going in schools and what’s working and what’s not. I want to encourage more students to speak up and get involved.”

Additional information an be found here:

https://www.wssda.org/events/covid-19-networking-calls/update-on-open-public-meetings/

https://www.governor.wa.gov/news-media/covid-19-trends-give-leaders-confidence-look-towards-next-phase-pandemic-response

https://apnews.com/article/coronavirus-pandemic-technology-health-california-public-health-c0be203235ff50532167173623e56b59