What was supposed to be a regular meeting of the Saucon Valley School Board Tuesday ended up being no meeting at all after Zoom’s limit on the number of participants prevented some board members and administrators from accessing their own meeting.
One hundred people–including many teachers–logged in to attend the meeting, which is the maximum number on certain plans for the video conferencing software Zoom. The program has become popular during the COVID-19 pandemic, as many groups have been unable to meet in person due to limits on the number of people allowed at gatherings.
Once the participant limit is reached, additional people are unable to enter the meeting.
Those who had already joined the meeting, such as board president Shamim Pakzad, directors Michael Karabin and Bryan Eichfeld, board solicitor Mark Fitzgerald and district supervisor of technology Michael Hanssen, discussed various alternative ways to hold the meeting, but were unable to reach an agreement, even after a private phone call between Pakzad and Fitzgerald.
Several board members politely invited members of the public to log out to allow the necessary personnel to access the meeting, but no one budged. They then discussed the possibility of having those unable to log in to the meeting via the web call in via phone, which is another way to access a Zoom meeting. However, it was realized they would still count toward the participant limit and therefore be unable to enter the meeting.
Sharon Bender, an elementary school teacher, suggested asking a participant to call someone without access to the meeting and leaving the line open on speakerphone so that they could still participate. In addition, the board explored the option of streaming the live meeting to YouTube, with a comments section for questions and comments from the public. Hanssen said that this was not possible with Zoom.
They also discussed moving immediately to Google Meet, which has a larger limit of 250 participants, but could not do so without advance notice. Eichfeld asked Hanssen if he had contacted Zoom’s sales department to upgrade to a higher number of participants, but Hanssen doubted any staff would be available immediately and said that such a plan change would take time.
The school board must now schedule a special meeting to conduct Tuesday’s business while allowing for all people who want to attend. Special meetings must be advertised and require at least 24 hours notice.
It wasn’t clear when the special meeting will be held, how it will be conducted or what drew so many people to Tuesday’s meeting, however the district is currently in the process of finalizing its budget for the 2020-2021 school year.
The proposed final budget must be adopted by the board by May 31, made available for public inspection by June 10 and adopted as a final budget by June 20, according to the district’s budget adoption timeline.
Other matters of importance concern remote learning in the age of COVID-19 and its potential impact on the next school year, which remains unknown.
School board agendas and meeting information can be found under the School Board section of the district website, or at SVPanthers.org/domain/572.