Local school boards go virtual following new Ohio law

By Emma Hendy

The Talawanda Board of Education held a live-streamed meeting with no attendees Thursday afternoon to discuss a change in Ohio law that allows the board of education meetings to be virtual.

Superintendent Ed Theroux said that as part of the effort to combat the spread of the coronavirus by limiting public gatherings, the Ohio Legislature, at the encouragement of Gov. Mike DeWine, changed its position on conducting board of education meetings virtually. Previously, the law required that boards of education meet in person, rather than through a computer hookup, Theroux said.

The new law says boards may now meet online during the duration of the coronavirus emergency or until Dec. 31. “This would keep our students, staff, board members, and community members all safe,” said Theroux.

Two ways will be provided for the community members to attend the online board of education meetings. Meetings will be videotaped and can be found on the district website at any time for viewing. The meetings will also be live-streamed, allowing for public participation in real-time.  

“If you couldn’t be there at 7 p.m. and you wanted to watch it at 10 p.m., you can click on that link, however, you would not be able to participate,” Theroux said.  

A link will be posted on the Talawanda website to join the meetings as they are being held, by visiting the site, clicking on the “departments” tab, then clicking on the “board of education” tab and the corresponding date.

Members of the public will be asked to mute the microphones on their device upon joining the meeting. The public will only participate in the public comment sections of the meetings. Members of the public will be able to type questions into a chat box for the board to answer.

“We need to maintain as much as possible security at the board meeting,” said Theroux.

The board is concerned someone may join and take over the meeting or the call may crash due to overuse of the system.

If someone in the public would like to attend the meeting but does not have access to the internet or a device, Talawanda High School will be open for up to 20 people to use computers there. However, the number of people may change depending on the guidelines given by DeWine or the Ohio Department of Health.

“It will all be reliant on what we can and can’t do during this pandemic,” said Theroux.

Masking tape will be used to ensure that all attendees at the school are at least six feet apart. During the public session, attendees will be allowed to come up to a device and type their question into the chatbox. Wipes will be provided to disinfect the device after use.

During executive sessions, the public will see an empty screen while the board has a conference call privately and will return to the public link after the call.

The vote Thursday to institute these procedures was unanimous. The new system will be put into practice with the board’s next regularly scheduled meeting April 20.