“If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video is worth a million,” said Waterloo Region District School Board (WRDSB) student trustee, Kenzy Soror, regarding a motion to have video recordings of school board meetings made available.
“I maintain that knowledge is a right, not a privilege,” she told the school board at its meeting, Monday night.
The motion to release video recordings was put forward by trustee Jayne Herring and was unanimously carried at the meeting.
“These meetings should be available, but they are not. And that is why I have brought this motion forward. It is important that we have transparency and that we are responsible for the words that we are saying at these meetings,” Herring said.
Trustee Cindy Watson questioned why videos weren’t already being posted.
“It came as a surprise to many of us that the videos weren’t being put on the board website. I’m wondering when and why that decision was made,” Watson said.
“Parents want to know what’s going on. They want to be informed. It should be a given and something that should be expected. And if other boards are doing it, then why aren’t we?”
Sorer said looking at other boards and seeing board meetings readily accessible on official YouTube channels and local archives on board’s websites, one could not help but wonder, do their students and constituents have more right to knowledge than those in Waterloo region?
“Is there a specific concern that calls for only allowing a couple of weeks for a temporary access window to the recordings?” Sorer asked.
All districts are required to keep minutes of their meetings, and while some make audio recordings available to help with recording minutes, there is no requirement for video or audio recording of public board meetings. School boards can record if they want, or if their community demands it.
School Board chair Scott Piatkowski said some meetings are removed once the minutes of the meetings have been approved.
“The position from the Freedom of Information Office is that the minutes are the official record of the meeting. Once the minutes are approved, the videos are not necessary,” Piatkowski said.
“We have now given direction that we now want the videos to be retained so that our policy work group will come back with a way to carry that out.”
Trustee Sorer said that as someone who relies on these videos to get the student body engaged with board activities, and student advocacy in general, she says she is concerned there is a lack of a transparent, equitable, and consistent retention policy when it comes to board meeting recordings.
“Transparency and accountability go hand in hand and short of a full transcript of the meetings, summaries like the minutes rarely capture everything that happens in long meetings where the most critical issues and decisions are discussed and taken,” Soror said.
“Given the volatile nature of live meetings, it’s understandable that on some rare occasions contingency measures need to be resorted to in dealing with incidents of concern that might happen during such meetings. Yet extreme caution and precision should be taken whenever such measures are invoked.”
Carolyn Burjoski, A Waterloo region teacher, was removed from a public school board meeting in January after her comments were deemed inappropriate, is now suing the board.
“The board quickly removed the video of the meeting from its website so people could not hear for themselves what I actually said,” Burjoski said in a video on Twitter.
The board’s education director, jeewan chanicka, said legal counsel confirmed that the board made the right move.
“It stands beyond any questioning that anyone’s right to voice their opinion is bound by their ability to do so without inflicting harm on others,” Soror said.
“It goes without saying that the WRDSB and elected trustees are accountable to the student body and the board’s constituents.”