Kenosha Unified’s School Board meeting marked the first time the district’s governing body conducted its official business with blended attendance both in-person and remotely while the gathering was livestreamed and recorded for the public Tuesday night.
Observing social distancing protocols amid the COVID-19 pandemic, including arrangements six feet apart, five board members — President Dan Wade, Tom Duncan, Mary Modder, Yolanda Adams and Tony Garcia — were seated around tables at the center of the room instead of the dais. Board members Rebecca Stevens and Todd Battle attended virtually, thanks to Google Meets (the app also known as Hangouts), with both opting for audio only transmission.
“So, we’re using (Meets) for the remote connections,” said Kris Keckler, the district’s chief information officer in the office of educational accountability. “Everyone on the board, they can dial in. They have Google accounts from KUSD. We activated it for all staff last week.”
Meeting Owl, a specialized device that looks like an owl with a 360-degree panoramic camera, directional voice sensing and speaker system, enabled coverage of the entire room, in which a total of 10 people participated.
“Instead of just a single web camera that is stationary, it makes it more interactive, more engaged in the room,” he said. “We then take the feed and put it straight up to our YouTube Live channel,” he said.
The room was devoid of an audience, although chairs were set up with similar protocols — six feet apart. If the public was watching live, they were watching from a safer distance at home on TV, like they always have, or on YouTube using the link https://www.youtube.com/kenoshaschools/live.
The board waived Policy 8870, which allows for comments from the public. Only one person had phoned in to sign up to comment, according to board secretary Stacy Busby, but that person didn’t attend. Residents were invited to email or mail comments.
Indeed, the pandemic is like nothing that most living in the 21st Century have ever faced before. It has forced public governmental bodies to rapidly re-think and deliver information, whether emergency or routine, in a novel way — the urgency of the new normal.
Wade took the crash course on Saturday, prepping him on the technical aspects, such as sound delay during comments or registering a vote. At the time, said Keckler, staff were anticipating more board members would be attending remotely.
Districts ‘jumping’ at virtual option
Many other districts and municipalities, he said, are now “jumping” at the opportunity to hold their meetings this way.
“They still want their business in the organization to continue … a lot of them are looking to hold their meetings in a virtual sense, both for the public viewing but also the interactions with board members,” he said. “It’s taking advantage of existing technology in a day and age where, if we can’t all get a quorum to meet physically together, we could still continue with the business at hand.”
In recent days, the technology has been used for in-person and virtual remote meetings with the district’s leadership council and principals as they plan their next steps. Keckler anticipates the next board meeting on April 27 will have a similar format.
“Two days ago, I didn’t think this was ever going to happen,” Wade said, thanking Keckler and the IT staff. “But being the technical wizard that I am, I was, of course, pessimistic about it.”
At Tuesday’s meeting, which lasted about a half hour, the board approved implementation of a $2.2 million federal Head Start grant to serve 330 students at 12 schools, adopted new instructional materials for middle school and high school English and elementary music and increased credit students earn in the youth apprenticeship program from .5 to 1.0.
“And, I learned to speak Owl,” Wade said after the meeting.
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