Conducting effective and productive meetings during a global health crisis when in-person meetings are not an option has been a challenge for school boards across the state. Beyond the technology, it changes the dynamic of meetings completely.
The newly relaxed Open Meetings Act rules leave boards with a lot of questions about governance, legal issues and the basic best practices of conducting meetings online.
Here are helpful tips on hosting virtual board meetings that follow best practices and comply with the law. For full details, watch the TASB webinar on remote meetings below, or sign up to view it in TASB’s Online Learning Center (OLC) for continuing education credit. Just search for “Remote Meetings: What Board Members Need to Know.”
What updates have been made to the Open Meetings Act?
Gov. Greg Abbott suspended a limited number of open meeting laws to the extent necessary to allow school board meetings to happen by phone or videoconference to avoid physically gathering in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Read all the specifics in Texas Governor Suspends Certain Provisions of Open Meetings Act Due to Coronavirus (COVID-19) (pdf).
Be sure to consult your school attorney for a full understanding of how the temporary suspension of certain public meetings requirements impacts your district.
Getting prepared for a remote meeting
There are a few things you should do before holding a remote meeting, including:
- Post the meeting notice: A physical meeting notice is not required right now, but you need to post a meeting notice to your district’s website 72 hours before the meeting—unless the emergency notice exception allows one-hour notice. You can use TASB Legal Services’ Sample Notice/Agenda: Board Meeting by Videoconference or Telephone Call During Disaster Due to COVID-19.
- Designate public attendance and comment personnel: Communicate how the public can access this meeting and the public comment procedure. Designate a staff member to manage the process to ensure your meetings honor public comment rules.
- Know how to introduce the online meeting: Have a script prepared to be read before the meeting begins. TASB’s Suggested Script to Be Read before Telephone or Videoconference Meeting Held under Suspended OMA Laws (pdf) can take the guess work out of that.
- Be prepared to record the meeting: Follow your districts normal posting rules regarding meeting minutes, audio, and video and at a minimum, be able to produce an audio recording of your meeting.
- Create private links for executive session: Consider having an undisclosed, separate meeting link for your board to use should it go into closed session. This reduces the chance of forgetting to limit public access of participants using the posted public link.
- Consider roll call voting: For boards not using a paperless board meeting software like BoardBook, keeping track of board member participation online can be more difficult. State your name as you make calls and motions. This will ensure accurate minutes when it’s not easy or possible to see who’s talking during a remote meeting.
If you are need more information on getting the virtual meeting set up, read “How to Do Virtual Board Meetings That Work” from the last Board Update for more preparation and facilitation tips.
Tips for a high-quality virtual board meeting
Will you be participating in the meeting from your kitchen table or home office? Perhaps you plan to sit in your favorite recliner or on your back porch. As you choose your location for participating in a remote meeting, you should consider:
- Privacy: A private place becomes a necessity should the board go into executive session. No one should overhear matters discussed in closed session, even in the privacy of your own home.
- Background noise: With most of us staying at home with our families, it’s important to find a quiet space where you won’t be interrupted by kids, a dog, or anything else.
- Audio/video quality: Test your audio quality and video appearance before you join a remote meeting so you can see what others will see during the meeting.
- Comfort: Since you may be there for a while, make sure you’re comfortable.
Useful BoardBook Premier features for conducting better online meetings
If your district is using BoardBook Premier, there are several key features to increase efficiency and simplify facilitation on your remote meetings:
- Meeting Attendance Reports: Allows the minutes manager to document which voting members are present or absent. This information becomes part of a Minutes Report which can be run after the meeting.
- Follow the Leader: Allows a designated user with the meeting leader permission to visually lead the meeting. Board members and other can choose to “Follow the Leader” or navigate independently.
- Public Projector: This option is similar to ‘Follow the Leader’ and follows the same navigation led by the meeting leader, but it guides the public participants.
- Electronic Voting: This advanced feature allows a minutes manager to trigger a vote, prompting a screen with the motion and voting options for board members to vote live remotely.
- Minutes Report: Includes agenda items, motions, votes, actions, and discussion notes, which can be saved by the minutes manager. This report can be either used as the basis for collecting information during the meeting from which the draft minutes can be created, or used as the draft minutes directly.
- Personal Notes: Provides the option for a user to add a note to an agenda item. These notes are tied to the account and are not available to other users. Remember: Just as notes a board member might write on paper, the content of these notes may become part of a public information request.
Webinar: What Board Members Need to Know about Meeting Remotely
Get credit for this webinar on remote meetings for school boards
Remember: You can watch this webinar and answer questions in TASB’s Online Learning Center to receive continuing education credit.
If you have questions or ideas on how TASB can help your board, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.