Widely available online applications — the same kinds used by people to video chat with their family and friends and for business colleagues to collaborate from various locations — are now helping government officials conduct business amid health concerns raised by the coronavirus.

The Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA) has provided valuable assistance in not only enabling school boards to access video conferencing applications, but also offering guidance to ensure the public can view and participate in the sessions.

School boards are being advised that they can use video conferencing options to conduct board meetings, allowing directors to speak with each other while maintaining social distancing in the ongoing effort to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

“The licenses we’ve secured are the expanded version that will allow the school boards to not only hold their meetings virtually, but also live stream the meetings on public channels such as Facebook, giving the public access to the meeting and allowing community members to submit questions and comments to the school board,” said Annette Stevenson, a spokeswoman for the PSBA.

Transparency and public access are vital components of any government deliberations, including those of school board members.

Melissa Melewsky, an attorney with the Pennsylvania Newsmedia Association, noted that school leaders and other local officials appear to be trying to “strike a balance” in order to maintain transparency while still keeping themselves and the public safe during the coronavirus outbreak.

In this regard, it is important that these public boards remember what can be done against what should be done. Transparency must always been paramount, even if the public access is limited.

To help ensure that transparency standards are met, the PSBA has issued tips to members who decide to take their discussions online. They include:

n Making the meeting available for the general public to view online, but also providing a physical location where members of the public could see and participate in the meeting if they don’t have access to the internet.

n Ensuring a mechanism is established for the public to provide comment.

n Including the news media in planning and advertising any virtual meetings, a move that should help both inform the public about how to participate, but also demonstrate that the change is intended to promote public health and “not to avoid transparency to the public.”

We all hope the coronavirus health crisis dissipates soon so many aspects of our lives, including public government meetings, can return to normal. But until then, the timely suggestions and advice provided by the Pennsylvania School Boards Association helps to ensure that all government meetings maintain important standards of public access and transparency.

NOTE: Opinions expressed in The Daily Item’s editorials are the consensus of the publisher, top newsroom executives and community members of the editorial board. Today’s was written by Digital Editor Dave Hilliard.

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