GM School Board chair Brown reverses course; to allow comment on Zoom — with stipulations

Board chair Deb Brown is instituting rules for participating in meetings over Zoom, including muting until recognized to speak.
Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

By Cynthia Prairie
©2023 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Just hours after The Chester Telegraph published an article stating that the Green Mountain Unified School District Board would no longer allow comments from the public and board members who were attending a meeting remotely, the school board chair reversed course to allow remote comments after all.

The Telegraph first learned of the course correction from a Chester resident who has been in communication with GM board chair Deb Brown. The change was confirmed on Monday, Sept. 11, in a more detailed email that Brown sent to board members on Sept. 6.

Brown’s initial decision to ban Zoom comments first came to light during a board meeting on Thursday, Aug. 17, when Cavendish representative Kate Lamphere questioned the move, which Brown had informed board members about by email. Brown’s email also apparently stated that board members on Zoom also would not be allowed to vote.

Lamphere had complained that the decision was made unilaterally, without discussion or input from the community. She added that no town should benefit from access more than others.

GM District school board chair Deb Brown has changed course on her Zoom decision.

But Brown contended that the board was just returning to pre-Covid practice. That practice also included meeting at each of the district’s three schools — Green Mountain, Cavendish Town Elementary and Chester-Andover Elementary on a round-robin basis. However, in the last few years – due in part to the audio visual access provided by Zoom, almost all meetings have been based in Chester.

GM Zoom meetings have not always gone smoothly. The May 18 meeting erupted in confusion caused by a poor Zoom connection that resulted in misunderstood motions and errors in voting, see: GM board votes to keep Chieftain; Fierman, 3 members resign.

Another meeting became chaotic thanks to fast-changing events and unclear direction. That meeting, held at CTES on May 24, attracted 80 Zoom attendees and 20 in person, including the only board member in-person, Cavendish resident Steve Perani.  See: Two board members returned to GM district board.

On the afternoon after the article about the Zoom decision was published, Beverly Hart, a Chester resident who has been a strong voice in support of her granddaughter during school board meetings, wrote in a comment to The Telegraph, “…  I for one, don’t have a way to get to the meetings, so I find it very helpful to be able to attend via Zoom. Rarely, do I have something to say, but I would like to be able to have that option if needed. … There are many things that Covid changed and this may just be one of them. Be happy that you have people attending and grateful for their input. Positive and negative.”

Beverly Hart of Chester says Zoom allows remote access for those who can’t attend a school board meeting in person.

About an hour after that comment was published, Brown emailed Hart, “Hi Bev, I saw your comments on the telegraph and wanted you to know that I have already rethought that decision. I … have heard from several board members and people that feel is still important. I just wanted to let you know that you will still be able to make comment’s. I appreciate your thoughts.”

Then on Sept. 6, The Telegraph published another article — this one surveying other government bodies throughout the region on how they manage Zoom attendance or if they have abandoned the practice. Hart then commented on that article on Facebook: “I have been told by the Chester Chairwoman that the public WILL be able to comment via zoom for their school board meetings.”

Also on Sept. 6, Brown, in a more detailed email, wrote to board members that she will reinstate public comments on Zoom “with certain stipulations” including that all Zoom participants will be muted until they are “recognized to speak.” The Telegraph obtained that email through a Public Records request to the Two Rivers Supervisory Union.

She warns that if someone unmutes themselves, “speaks outside of public comment” or is rude or disrespectful, they will be muted or removed from the meeting.  “Although board meetings are held in public, they are not public meetings,” she writes.

If someone speaks outside of public comment
or is rude or disrespectful, they will be muted
or removed from the meeting.  Although board
meetings are held in public, they are not
public meetings.

Deb Brown, chair
Green Mountain Unified School District Board

Brown also suggests holding one public comment period instead of two, and doing so prior to New Business. “That way if the public wants to comment on any business we will be discussing, they will have the opportunity to do so. I was thinking of up to 20 minutes, but that could be extended if the board thought it necessary.”

She also told the board, “I am completely open to hearing from any of you at any time … Please don’t hesitate to reach out with any concerns or opinions, I promise, I will listen.” You can read the email by clicking here.

On Monday, Hart told The Telegraph, Hart, “I am appreciative of Deb’s change of mind on this issue. Some people are not able to make it to the actual meeting so having Zoom is a wonderful option for the community to take advantage of. I feel it is very important for the public to be able to voice their opinions, negative or positive, in person or via Zoom.”

I feel it is very important for the public to be
able to voice their opinions, negative or positive,
in person or via Zoom.

Beverly Hart
Chester resident

Lamphere declined to comment for this article, and Brown could not be reach for comment.

The issue will also be addressed during the next Green Mountain School Board meeting, currently scheduled to be held at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 21, at Green Mountain High School, 716 VT-103 in Chester.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Filed Under: Education NewsFeaturedLatest News

About the Author:

RSSComments (2)

Leave a Reply | Trackback URL

  1. Brenda Blodgett says:

    Ms. Brown is incorrect in her writing as reported “Although board meetings are held in public, they are not public meetings,”. School board meetings are in fact public meetings as defined by Vermont Open Meeting law. The law states clearly that the public may participate in these meetings, including electronically. Here is the statute:

  2. Evan Parks says:

    This was the right choice, thank you for rethinking your decision Deb, more access to the process for everyone is, in my opinion, a positive change, that will make it much easier for people to participate.