March 29, 2020
Planning a Virtual School Board Meeting:
Lessons from the Hayward Unified School District
One of the many challenges school districts across the state face with the shelter in place orders is the need to hold a virtual school board meeting while allowing the community a variety of opportunities to participate. The Hayward Unified School District (HUSD) Board of Trustees held its first school board meeting under these challenging circumstances on Wednesday, March 25, 2020. Board President Dr. Annette Walker presided over the special board meeting that focused on the district’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. The meeting adhered to guidelines put in place during the statewide shelter in place order while still being accessible to the public. The Board of Trustees and staff were able to work together to adjust the meeting format so that the public could still comment on items on the agenda, watch the meeting with Spanish translation, and make comments in English and Spanish. 

Other school districts are undoubtedly in similar situations, so HUSD has prepared the following guide to help governance teams looking to hold virtual meetings that still allow for community participation, including public comments in more than one language. Executive staff and technicians in the Educational Informational Technology (EIT) department worked together to develop a new plan for our virtual meeting. They spent many hours planning out how to hold the meeting in a way that was accessible, inclusive, and safe for meeting participants and viewers. Below is an explanation of how we planned the meeting and some lessons learned.
“The HUSD governance team is committed to transparency, equity, and inclusion and our efforts to host this virtual board meeting reflect those values.”

-Dr. Annette Walker, Hayward Unified School District Board President 
The Tools and the Team
The following tools were used to carry out our plan:

Zoom: HUSD purchased a monthly pro package with webinar add-on capability that allows for 100 participants. The webinar feature is key to setting up a safe and manageable meeting. The webinar feature allows the host to have panelists and attendees. This creates the necessary separation for Board members and staff to participate in the meeting on-line while allowing the public to only call in as attendees.

Google Hangouts:  This tool is part of our online Google suite and includes a feature that allows callers to call into a meeting and for the host to unmute callers as needed.  

YouTube: HUSD used an existing account to livestream the meeting

Computers: All participating panelists need computers with working microphones and cameras.

Everybody that is regularly involved in our bi-weekly school board meetings took part in planning the virtual meeting. This includes the board of trustees, the superintendent, cabinet members, technical staff, translator, executive assistants, and the public information officer. 
1. The executive assistant who manages the meeting set up a Zoom account. She then made sure that all panelists had a Zoom account as well. It's important to verify the appropriate Zoom email account beforehand to ensure the meeting cannot be accessed by anyone else.

2. The Zoom website was extensively reviewed and “help” videos were consulted to develop a thorough understanding of the platform.  

3. The planning team had numerous practice sessions. The sessions focused on the following issues:
  • Troubleshooting and problem solving with staff playing the role of panelists (the school board members) and attendees (the public)
  • Understanding Zoom features such as the ability to mute speakers 
  • Add the Zoom virtual background feature as an option. This allows panelists to set a background if they are not comfortable showing their personal space in the background. We set up backgrounds for our student board members that had images from their school.
  • Determining how to synchronize Spanish translation using two people on Google Hangouts. The translator provided simultaneous translation during the entire meeting and the public information officer managed callers and their speaking times.

4. The team held a mock meeting with the board members to get them comfortable with the tools, the flow of the meeting, and the extra communication they needed to guide the public through the virtual meeting. Members of the public either experienced the meeting via phone call or as viewers of the livestream.

5. After the first mock meeting, each board member received individual support to ensure their familiarity with the tools’ features, and to test their equipment and connection.

6. A script for the entire meeting was produced for the board president to ensure that information that is normally assumed in our usual settings could be effectively communicated to the public. 
Setting Up the Meeting
Step 1 : Create three meetings (call to order, closed session, open session) as webinars in Zoom and place 3-5 minute gaps in between each one. The spacing allows for time to stop and start new meetings and time to set up the YouTube livestream before the meeting begins. Zoom access to the meeting was made available to the public only via phone, not the video function. This allowed the host to monitor prospective speakers and ensured that only Board members and authorized staff could be on the screen. 

Step 2 : Create a meeting in Google Hangout where the Spanish-speaking community can listen to the meeting with simultaneous translation and comment on items appearing on the agenda 

Step 3 : Share the Zoom and Google Hangout phone numbers and entry codes with the community days ahead of the meeting. Indicate to the public where they will be able to access the YouTube URL on the day of the meeting just before the meeting starts. 

Step 4 : Register the translator in Zoom as a panelist so she can communicate with the panelists and the Zoom host.

Step 5 : Create a URL for the Youtube livestream. This has to be done only after the actual start of the Open Session Zoom meeting. Given that we scheduled the Zoom meeting a few minutes before officially opening the school board meeting, there was time to publish the URL.
The Result
  • English-speaking callers were able to call in to the phone number created for the Zoom meeting and comment on items appearing on the agenda. Callers pressed *9 to "raise their hand" on the Zoom
  • Spanish-speaking callers dialed into the phone number created by the Google Hangouts and listen with simultaneous translation. Participants were also able to comment on items appearing on the agenda with the translator summarizing those comments for board members. 
  • Any member of the public that wanted to just observe the meeting could do so by viewing the YouTube livestream
  • The host managed the Zoom meeting, but when the board discussion began, the host switched to “speaker view” so viewers could experience the meeting. 
  • During each comment section, the board president first called for comments from the Spanish translation line. If a speaker wished to speak, the translator put her phone on speaker mode so the board could hear the comments. The translator would then summarize the comments. 
  • Once the board president moved to comments from the English-speaker line, the host could see if callers had “raised their hand” to indicate they wanted to speak. The host would then unmute the caller, say the first three and last three numbers of the caller, and inform them that they were clear to speak. 
During these unprecedented times, the Hayward Unified School District sought to be creative in using the tools we were new to for the purpose of hosting a public meeting. As additional features become available and familiar, we look forward to fine-tuning this process. We would love to hear how other districts are managing their meetings with similar tools.

Please e-mail for questions and to provide feedback.