Midpeninsula Post

PAUSD board to allow remote public comment beginning next school year

Palo Alto High School in September 2021. (Emily Yao)

The Palo Alto Unified School District board will begin taking remote public comments again beginning at the first meeting of the 2022-23 school year. 

Remote commenting was put in place when meetings first turned virtual in March 2020, but in April was suspended by the agenda-setting committee, composed of Superintendent Don Austin, President Ken Dauber and Vice President Jennifer DiBrienza. The ad hoc committee, formed earlier this month to outline commenting rules, is set to present a procedure proposal in September.

The decision faced initial opposition from board member Shounak Dharap, student board representatives and other members of the community for restricting accessibility. The item was brought back to discussion this month. 

Dharap made the motion to permit and enable public participation and comment for regular board meetings via Zoom at last week’s meeting; he said he made the motion on the grounds of equity after a robust discussion at the previous board meeting. 

Incoming PAUSD parent Nicole Chiu-Wang voiced support for the motion during public comment, citing that community members may not be able to make it to board meetings in-person for reasons ranging from lack of transportation to health concerns. 

“Whatever the reason, keeping Zoom comments overcomes that obstacle and makes our meetings more accessible,” Chiu-Wang said. “I don’t think that now that we have the ability to [engage parents in board meetings], we should be limiting the ability to do so.” 

Dauber said that while he wasn’t against Zoom commenting, he was concerned that adopting the motion would risk creating “unintended consequences,” such as an overload of online commenters. He suggested waiting to enable Zoom commenting until after the ad hoc committee established a protocol. 

“I urge my colleagues to take a breath, wait a minute and do this in the right order,” Dauber said.  

DiBrienza said she felt Dauber was “being a little alarmist” and that in over two years of Zoom commenting, his concerns had not been issues. 

“By approving them now, we’ve said our number one priority is that we’re going back to Zoom comments,” DiBrienza said.

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