Left to right: Carole Thomas, Michael Simons, Susan Henry (president), Duane Dishno, Diana Carey, Bonnie Castrey, Clint Harwick (superintendent). Photo courtesy of HBUHSD.
Fountain Valley High School

HBUHSD board begins live streaming meetings after community calls for greater transparency

The Huntington Beach Union High School District Board of Trustees livestreamed its September 8 meeting via Zoom and accepted public comments, following long-running demands from the community to do so.

In accordance with the Brown Act, local public agencies including school districts must conduct their meetings openly. The COVID-19 pandemic has prevented public attendance for months.

Unlike the surrounding Fountain Valley, Huntington Beach City, Ocean View and Westminster school districts, which live stream their board meetings, HBUHSD did not provide similar opportunities for public access during the early months of the pandemic.

At Wednesday’s board meeting, board president Susan Henry said: “The Board is authorized to hold this meeting via teleconferencing and to make this meeting accessible electronically to all members of the public,” referring to a state executive order released on March 4.

The board did not provide an explanation as to why it had waited until September to begin livestreaming its meetings. The audio recordings of 2020 board meetings from March, April, May and June were also missing from the district’s website until shortly after the Aug. 11 meeting.

As of press time, the HBUHSD Board of Trustees had not responded to Baron Banner’s request for comments.

Public comments were accepted via email for 24 hours beginning Sept. 7 at 1 p.m. The trustees acknowledged that they had read the 17 public comments they received but did not read them during the meeting and did not allow viewers to engage, which community members, including members of the HBUHSD District Educators Association teachers’ union, criticized.

“Parents and community, this board is effectively silencing you from taking part in this public forum. I’m appalled, both as a teacher and parent,” DEA vice president Jennifer Lamperts wrote on Facebook Sept. 9. “After we petition to make the meeting legal and open to the public, this is what the current HBUHSD board does to our community.”

For weeks, members of the HBUHSD community have voiced concerns over what they’ve felt to be a lack of transparency regarding school reopenings from the Board of Trustees and district office.

The increase in frustration comes after the DEA claimed last month that the Board of Trustees and district office left teachers in the dark when creating the 2020-2021 School Opening and Safety Plan.

“It’s wrong to hide what should be public knowledge. Especially if parents or guardians need to know what is going on in their child’s school and school district,” community member Omar Leyva wrote on a petition started by DEA asking HBUHSD to live stream their meetings and allow public comments. “Do the right thing, you work for the children and their parents! No secret meeting!”

Likewise, Gina Clayton-Tarvin, an HBUHSD parent and president of the Ocean View School District Board of Trustees, demanded that HBUHSD make “public meetings accessible to all via online service like Zoom meetings” and even offered the services of OVSD information technology staff in helping to set up HBUHSD livestreams.

“It is imperative that you give parents, students, teachers/staff and other community members the ability to participate fully in the decision-making process that will lead to [the] eventual return to in-person schooling, as well as virtual schooling,” Clayton-Tarvin wrote.

Many have also criticized district leaders for sporadic and inconsistent communication with administrators, teachers, parents and students, as well as for releasing school reopening plans last-minute.

“We have been misguided by partial and vague information and have not been told exactly what 100% virtual school will look like and it starts in 2 weeks,” community member Kathy Carson wrote on the online petition last month. “The survey we are required to turn in is misleading and vague, no real questions have been answered.”

HBUHSD community members also pointed to how the Board failed to discuss a potential transition to in-person instruction at the Sept. 9 board meeting.

“NO mention of plans for moving to hybrid, NO mention of plans to create a virtual academy for online students while hybrid students can benefit from an actual teacher in the room… NO planning whatsoever,” Lamperts wrote on Facebook.

Regardless of the community’s frustrations with the district, some parents shared their children’s positive experiences with returning to school.

“Just want to thank all of you teachers/administrators for doing your very best under these circumstances. Both my kids…had a great first day,” HBUHSD parent Maybell Dy-Fister wrote on Facebook.

Another parent praised her son’s school for a successful first-day experience on Facebook.

“My SeaHawk was so happy today! He had a wonderful 1st day of his sophomore year! Thank you, teachers and Dr. Robinson and Dr Rasmussen,” HBUHSD parent Lisa Bisa wrote.

Karen Phan contributed to this article.