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Scott Steepleton, Editor
6:12 am PDT July 29, 2021

As businesses weigh replacing their pre-COVID ways with hybrid models that keep staff and customers apart — and, so goes the logic, safe — so, too, are government agencies adjusting how they conduct business.

On August 15, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District board will consider whether to return to in-person meetings or move to a hybrid model.

Suspension of aspects of California’s open meeting law dates to a March 2020 executive order by Gov. Gavin Newsom allowing city councils, school boards and other governing bodies to meet virtually to help slow the spread of COVID-19. That order is set to expire on Sept. 30.

Instead of simply returning to business as usual, SMMUSD staff is proposing hybrid board meetings, saying in a report that, since the order took effect, everyone from teachers to bill payers “rose to the challenge and creatively, collectively developed solutions that have made us rethink how we approach everyday tasks.”

“As an organization, we have the opportunity to take advantage of the knowledge and improved processes we gained during this monumental period.”

The hybrid experience “presents technological challenges,” the report states, “as now you are dealing with multiple microphones and speakers, with sound coming from both within the boardroom and the virtual environment.” This can cause a feedback loop.

Hybrid meetings allow greater access for Spanish speakers, according to the report. “Simultaneous interpretation in Spanish at an in-person-only meeting will be available only when a person has requested such services ahead of time, in order to allow staff enough time to find and schedule enough in-person translators to take turns during long board meetings.”

“We discovered that a virtual meeting platform made securing multiple interpreters much easier, as we were able to use in-house as well as contracted interpreters (who might be logging in from any location).”

Other hybrid pros: staff and board member flexibility, in that both can log in from anywhere — even when they’re under the weather.

Another pro, according to staff, is increased public participation.

“Pre-pandemic, public attendance at a board meeting was limited to how many people could fit safely into the boardroom … Our virtual board meetings allowed for robust public comments, as the public speakers were allowed to be seen and heard (in some other school districts, the public might only be heard or would only be allowed to submit their comments in writing to be read allowed by staff).”

The meeting starts at 5:30 p.m. on Zoom. The meeting ID is 868 0434 4392; passcode 087226.