The Duluth School Board voted Tuesday night to hold all meetings by teleconferencing or other electronic means beginning in April until further notice, as well as to record superintendent candidate interviews for public viewing after the fact.
The vote comes after Duluth Mayor Emily Larson declared a state of emergency for the city Tuesday afternoon. Over the weekend, the federal government recommended that Americans avoid social gatherings involving groups of more than 10 for the next 15 days.
The School Board plans to get recommendations from the Minnesota School Boards Association and the district's technology department on how to involve the public and media in these meetings.
Pandemics are specifically accounted for in Minnesota's Open Meeting Law, but the provisions have rarely, if ever, been enacted, said Mark Anfinson, attorney for the Minnesota Newspaper Association and an expert in public meeting regulations.
The law states that government bodies can close their physical meeting spaces and conduct business via interactive video or conference call if regular protocols are "not practical or prudent because of a health pandemic or an emergency."
The agency must still "to the extent practical ... allow a person to monitor the meeting electronically from a remote location," according to the meeting law.
As for the superintendent candidate interviews, board Chair Jill Lofald made a motion to rescind the motion from last week to not record the superintendent candidate interviews. That motion was approved unanimously.
Then Lofald made a motion, approved unanimously, to record first-round candidate interviews on Thursday and Friday and have video recordings uploaded to the district’s YouTube channel immediately following the last interview Friday. The video recordings would be available through 8 a.m. Monday on YouTube.
The discussion and vote of who the School Board decides to interview in the second round will be live-streamed on the district's YouTube channel Friday. After that vote, the School Board is expected to make final decisions on how the second round interviews will be conducted. As of Tuesday night, the finalists are expected to interview in-person Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
Board members Paul Sandholm, David Kirby and Kelly Durick Eder expressed concerns with having candidates travel through airports during the current health emergency. Sandholm even suggested suspending the superintendent search process until the summer or next fall and considering appointing an interim superintendent.
“I don’t think we shouldn’t be thinking about the cost because people’s lives are worth more than anything that we lose by waiting,” he said.
No decision was made Tuesday night.
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