In the wake of last week's Riverside-Brookfield High School Board of Education meeting, where officials rolled out their plan for students to return for part-time, in-person learning beginning with the second quarter, there were many people who questioned the board's data justifying the decision and complained that the plan lacked specificity.
How could there be an accurate assessment from parents about a plan they couldn't assess?
Whether or not critics might have thought differently about the school district's plan to reopen its doors to students had they been able to see what was on the table is open to question, but there's a fundamental principle they're right about.
That is this: Why is the documentation that forms the basis of agenda items at school board meetings not publicly available prior to the meetings?
Rather, the agenda is published, sans documentation. While the public knows that a particular item will be discussed, there's no indication of what the substance of that discussion will be or whether it might be controversial.
Perhaps that's the point, to keep away those unhappy with what's about to be discussed. We would hope that's not the case, but if the information discussed publicly at the board meeting was available to the public at the time the agenda was published – at least 48 hours ahead of time – then residents might be able to digest what was coming and provide input.
While you might not want a large crowd gathering inside during a pandemic, publishing board meeting documents prior to the meeting would at least allow informed public comment to be emailed to the school board and read into the record.
Attendance and testimony at last week's school board meeting was decidedly one-sided. If others weren't left to guess the details school board would be considering, that might have been different.
In any case, publishing meeting agendas with full documentation behind each item is now routine for many, many government agencies, including school boards. There is no good reason for information to be withheld until the morning after a meeting. If there are confidential items – employment contracts and so on – that must be withheld until a vote makes them official, that is understandable.
But, when we're talking about policy initiatives, like whether or not to reopen classroom doors to students in the midst of a pandemic, then that's a different story. The public deserves as much information as possible, and certainly the information that elected officials themselves will be basing their decisions on.
This shouldn't be a controversial position, and we urge the Riverside-Brookfield High School District 208 Board of Education to direct the publication of not only the meeting agenda but supporting documentation prior to school board meetings.