During the COVID-19 pandemic, districts and schools have been forced to rethink how Board of Education meetings are held. Due to shelter-in-place mandates and social distancing restrictions, legal guidelines for open meetings have been relaxed in many locations, allowing for public schools to hold these meetings virtually for the first time. If you are unsure how to develop a virtual meeting for your Board of Education, here is a step-by-step guide to get you started.
Step 1: Create a Board of Education webpage on your school or district website
If you don’t already have a dedicated webpage for your Board of Education, now’s the time to create one. Your Board of Education web page should include the following:
- Board member biographies and contact information
- Meeting calendar
- Agendas and minutes
- Board meeting videos (this is where you’ll post your virtual meetings!)
- Board policy manual
- Supporting information, blog posts or news stories related to the board
Wyandotte Public Schools makes good use of its Board of Education page by including photos of board members and intuitive navigation with important board-related information.
Dare County Schools in North Carolina makes board information directly available from the district’s main navigation, making it easy to find any information the community needs.
Step 2: Select a virtual meeting provider with a webinar feature
There are several options for holding board meetings virtually. Some of the most popular platforms include Zoom, GoToMeeting and Google Meet. You might already be using these platforms when holding meetings with your staff or collaborating with students.
Although you may already be familiar with these platforms, setting up a virtual board meeting will look different than a virtual staff meeting. For a board meeting, you’ll want to use a platform that offers a webinar feature instead of a regular meeting arrangement.
When holding a regular virtual meeting, everyone attending has the same permissions and even logs in with the same code and password. You don’t have the ability to differentiate roles within the meeting. When using a webinar, there are designated roles that you can assign to your board members, administrators and public attendees, offering an additional layer of security and meeting control.
Host: Whomever sets up the webinar is considered the host and has full control to manage everything about the webinar. The virtual board meeting host is typically the Board of Education secretary, superintendent or director of communications.
Panelists: Panelists can fully participate in the webinar by sharing their screen, speaking, etc. The panelists must be invited directly by the webinar host. Your panelists should include your Board of Education members and any administrators actively participating in the meeting.
Attendees: Attendees are only able to attend the meeting in view-only mode. They have a different link to access the meeting than the host or panelists.
Depending on the settings you select, attendees are able to raise their hand (virtually!) and submit comments during the meeting. They can interact with the host and panelists by using chat boxes. Your attendees are members of the public who are watching your virtual board meeting.
Step 3: Set a password and authenticate users
Understandably, many districts are concerned about security when utilizing virtual meeting tools. Reports of hacked meetings have circulated in the news since the use of virtual meetings increased in March. Although it is difficult to tell how or why specific meetings were hacked, there are some new safety features recently built in to platforms like Zoom to improve the safety and security of your meeting.
First, ensure your virtual meeting is password protected. When using most virtual platforms, a password is automatically generated. As the host, you also have permissions to change the password to something stronger if you prefer.
Also make sure the platform you choose offers authentication profiles. By using this setting, you are able to restrict panelists (these are your board members and administrators!) from joining the webinar unless they are logged into Zoom with the email address you as the host have entered.
Step 4: Develop a form of collecting public comment
When conducting a virtual board meeting, many districts have been able to relax the rules regarding public comments. While the chance to address the Board of Education during an open meeting remains a requirement for public school boards, the method for obtaining these comments has changed. Many districts can now collect comments digitally to be read out loud by a board member during the virtual meeting.
You can gather these comments through developing an online form prior to the start of the meeting, or allow attendees of your meeting to submit them through the Q&A/chat feature.
Be sure to check the local regulations in your area to see what is possible for your district regarding public comments and virtual board meetings.
Step 5: Create a landing page with a virtual board meeting registration form
Once your webinar and public comment submission forms are created, the next step is to create a landing page for attendees to register.
While requiring pre-registration for a webinar is optional, it allows you to collect information about your attendees, including the name, email address and any additional information you may ask. If you choose to require pre-registration for attendees, they will be asked to complete a short form before obtaining the link to enter the virtual board meeting.
You also have the option to hold the meeting without requiring pre-registration. Attendees are still required to type in their name and email address to watch the meeting, but the data collection is limited to those two fields. Without requiring pre-registration, attendees are able to register at any time, even if the meeting is already in session.
Whether you choose to require pre-registration or not, you’ll want to develop a landing page on your website to advertise how to watch the virtual meeting. Richland School District developed a landing page explaining its virtual meeting arrangement and how to watch the meeting online. The information is located prominently on its School Board’s page, making it easy to find.
Step 6: Train your board members and administration
Holding a Board of Education meeting virtually is probably a first for your team. Don’t assume your members know how to access the software or what to do once they log in. Provide as much training as possible to your team to ensure their comfort level is high when the meeting starts.
Most virtual meeting platforms have an abundance of pre-produced training videos. Utilize these tools first before trying to create them on your own.
It is also recommended that you host a practice board meeting with a small number of team members to test out the system and work out any kinks in advance. Be careful to only involve one to three board members in order to stay true to the open meetings act regulations.
Aside from the technical aspect of the training, also share tips with your team for optimal on-camera presence and making their home office spaces appear camera-ready.
- Encourage participants to declutter whatever appears in the background of their webcam, removing personal photos and distracting objects.
- Remind participants to not sit with their back to a window, as it can make their faces appear very dark and difficult to see.
- Although not everyone has a desk at home, avoid sitting in bed, on a couch, floor, or other “unprofessional” setting during the virtual meeting. You will look best on camera when sitting upright in a chair with your computer on a table instead of in your lap.
Step 7: Download the meeting video and post to your website
Once your meeting concludes, you’ll want to download the recording and post it to your Board of Education webpage for future viewing.
If you use Finalsite Composer, you can directly upload videos to your website using the Resources module without the need for third-party integration like YouTube or Vimeo. However, you can also embed videos from these platforms using YouTube of Vimeo elements.
If you are not already recording your in-person board meetings, this will lay the groundwork for video recording all meetings in the future. Your community will appreciate the transparency and ability to watch from home even after your virtual or in-person meeting ends.
A Step Further: Live Streaming
If you want to take things a step further, consider live streaming your virtual Board of Education meeting to your website or social media pages. Not only is live video extremely popular and engaging, it also removes the need for attendees to register and download additional software.
Live streaming to social media is a built-in feature of several virtual meeting platforms, as long as you have a pro or enterprise plan. You can easily monitor comments of your community by paying attention to your Facebook page and replying to community members as the meeting is taking place. Here is some information to get you started.
Live streaming video extends beyond just virtual board meetings. Schools worldwide rely on it to bring graduations, sporting events, in-person board meetings and special events to their communities. Finalsite offers professional live streaming that allows everyone in your community to watch these events from home no matter where they are in the world.
While live streaming may not be something you are able to set up right away, it is something to consider for the future to offer more transparency and ease of access to parents and community members moving forward.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many districts are holding virtual Board of Education meetings for the first time. Follow these steps to ensure your virtual meeting is successful, secure and engaging.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
As Finalsite's public school marketing manager, Mia plans and executes a variety of inbound marketing and digital content strategies. As a former TV and news reporter, freelance cinematographer and certified inbound marketer, Mia specializes in helping schools find new ways to share their stories online through web design, social media, copywriting, photography and videography. She is the author of numerous blogs, eBooks, and reports, including Finalsite's Inbound Marketing Benchmark Report.