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Potential SSD policy regulates recordings

September 20, 2011

By CARL SMITH
sdnnews@bellsouth.net

A potential Starkville School District policy could limit recordings and broadcasts of future board meetings if passed in October.
The school board had its first reading of the “Broadcasting and Taping of Board Meetings” policy in its Sept. 6 meeting, but no action was taken by board members. The board will hold a second reading on the policy 6 p.m. on Oct. 4 in the Greensboro Center.
If enacted, the policy states photographic, audio and video recording devices may be used at regular and special school board meetings, but board members must be notified of the intent to do so before the meetings begin.
“Photographs, broadcasting and recordings of meetings may be made only when all parties involved have been informed that cameras, broadcasting and/or recording devices are being used,” the policy states. “Persons operating cameras, broadcasting and/or recording devices must do so with a minimum disruption to those present at the meeting. Specifically, the view between board members and the audience must not be obstructed, interviews must not be conducted during the meeting and no commentary is to be given in a manner that distracts board members or the audience. The board has the right to halt any recording that interrupts or disturbs the meeting. Students may not be photographed without consent of their parents.”
According to a 2005 legal opinion, school districts cannot enact a policy which bans recording devices from school board meetings, but boards may develop “reasonable rules and policies concerning the recordings of meetings.” Dolton McAlpin, school board attorney, said he has reviewed the proposal and agrees it complies with the Open Meetings Act.
The potential policy is a recommendation from the Mississippi School Boards Association, Interim Superintendent Beth Sewell said, and is not intended to infringe on any rights delegated by the Open Meetings Act. Any policy under consideration by the board is given two public readings to draw public comments.
“The school board considers most if not all policies suggested by MSBA. However, the board is not required to adopt every policy as written or otherwise. The purpose of placing a policy on the agenda for a first reading is to give stakeholders an opportunity to provide input, which is the case with this policy. It does not mean that the board will automatically approve the policy,” Sewell said. “The Starkville School District strives to be transparent, and it is our intent to adopt policy that promotes transparency. “
Denotris Jackson, MSBA director of policy and advocacy, said the group provides sample, “skeleton” policies to school districts throughout the state. School boards are under no obligation to enact the policies as is, and they may modify the policies to their own tastes or discard the suggestions outright.
“We’ve had districts where people just come in, set up cameras and obstruct meetings,” Jackson said. “These are just generic rules. When school boards receive our samples, they also receive a disclaimer saying this is a sample and their attorney should review the policy.”
While the SSD board could adopt this new policy in the future, the city of Starkville itself has no such rule for the recording of its various board functions.
“The general rule of thumb for the city is that there is no rule,” Mayor Parker Wiseman said. “There is the option, but we do not have it in place.”
Board President Keith Coble said the board is now turning its attention from Monday’s special audit meeting and will focus on the issues, including the new recording policy, on tap in its October meeting.
“We’re going to do our homework on the issue,” Coble said.

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