Update: To access the board meeting virtually via Zoom click here.
Update: According to several school board members, Tuesday’s board meeting will be held virtually using the Zoom platform. Board members said details for public participation would be forthcoming from the superintendent, and referred a question about how individuals without Internet access could participate to the board solicitor.
While many public meetings have been canceled due to the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, others are being held with procedural modifications in place due to social distancing recommendations by public health officials.
The Saucon Valley School Board, for example, is still planning to meet Tuesday evening, however the number of attendees who are members of the public has been limited to four.
“The Saucon Valley School Board Meeting scheduled for March 24, 2020 will be limited to four members from the public in order to adhere to the regulation of no more than 10 individuals gathered in a public forum,” an announcement published on the district’s website said. “If you are interested in attending in person you must email the superintendent of schools at email@example.com. The first four emails received will be the only public members permitted to enter the building. Thank you for your understanding.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommendation for public gatherings was updated March 16 as the COVID-19 pandemic became more widespread in the United States.
That CDC recommendation states that “all U.S. events of 10+ people should be cancelled or held virtually” in areas where there is minimal to moderate spread of the disease.
There are nine school board members, and for a meeting to be held at least five must be in attendance to form a quorum.
In addition to the board, the meetings are typically attended by the superintendent, the assistant superintendent, the board solicitor, the district’s business director, the principals of the three schools and other staff members as well as faculty.
The agenda for Tuesday’s meeting indicates that in addition to Butler, board secretary David Bonenberger is to be present.
A draft meeting agenda does not include any information about pre-planned absences, and lists a call to order by board president Dr. Shamim Pakzad as well as reports which are scheduled to be provided by board members Michael Karabin, Shawn Welch, Cedric Dettmar, Bryan Eichfeld, Sandra Miller, Tracy Magnotta and Susan Baxter.
If all of those people are in attendance as well as four members of the public, there would be a total of 14 people in attendance. Typically, the board’s solicitor is also in attendance.
In addition to its recommendation that events for groups of 10 or more people be canceled or held virtually, the CDC has recommended that in areas where there is minimal to moderate exposure to coronavirus occurring all events be canceled by “organizations that serve people who are at higher risk of serious COVID-19 illness.”
It is documented and has been stressed by public health officials that people at higher risk for COVID-19 illness include the elderly and individuals with underlying health conditions.
The district’s invitation to attend the meeting makes no mention of age or health requirements with regard to the potential for contagion at a time when both the state’s health secretary, Dr. Rachel Levine, as well as Gov. Tom Wolf have repeatedly urged residents to “stay calm, stay home, stay safe.”
In a news conference Monday during which Wolf ordered residents of six Pennsylvania counties–including Bucks and Montgomery–to stay home for the next two weeks unless it’s to perform “certain essential activities and work to provide life-sustaining business and government services” Levine confirmed there is currently “an exponential rise in cases” in the state.
According to the CDC, areas with minimal to moderate transmission of coronavirus have “widespread and/or sustained transmission with high likelihood or confirmed exposure within communal settings with potential for rapid increase in suspected cases.”
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, as of Monday there were 25 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Northampton County; a total that includes two deaths attributed to the illness.
Due to the severity of the pandemic, K-12 schools statewide were ordered closed through March 30; a closure Wolf extended by two weeks on Monday.
In a podcast interview with Saucon Source conducted March 18, Butler indicated that the board was leaning toward having a meeting, in spite of the fact that most other local government agencies have canceled all meetings at least through the end of March, including Hellertown borough, Lower Saucon Township and Upper Saucon Township.
Butler also stressed the importance of safety in how the district is responding to the virus.
It’s also not clear if limiting attendance at a public meeting to four members of the public could potentially interfere with Pennsylvania’s Sunshine Law (Title 65), which states that “except as provided in subsection (d), the board or council of a political subdivision or of an authority created by a political subdivision shall provide a reasonable opportunity at each advertised regular meeting and advertised special meeting for residents of the political subdivision or of the authority created by a political subdivision or for taxpayers of the political subdivision or of the authority created by a political subdivision or for both to comment on matters of concern, official action or deliberation which are or may be before the board or council prior to taking official action.”
The Saucon Valley School Board meetings are livestreamed online and are also available for viewing on YouTube.
The meeting will begin at 7 p.m. and will be held in the high school Audion room.
The parents have vowed to attend every board meeting and speak about what they believe is a need for enhanced security in Saucon Valley schools until the district takes action.