New West school board ponders the future of meetings in a COVID-19 world

“How will we hold our meetings” isn’t usually a subject of much discussion at the school board table – at least, it wasn’t until the COVID-19 pandemic took hold.

Since spring break, the New Westminster school board has been holding its public meetings in virtual format, via Webex, with one operations committee meeting and one full board meeting each month since April. Education committee meetings have been cancelled.

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At the last public board meeting, held June 23, school board chair Anita Ansari noted plans for meetings in the 2020/21 school year are still up in the air.

The school board’s tentative meeting schedule calls for the first education committee meeting of the new year on Sept. 15, with the operations committee meeting on Sept. 22 and the full school board on Sept. 29, but all of that could still change.

Ansari noted the board has had discussions with staff to talk about meeting format and committee structure in the fall – looking at finding “efficiencies” in terms of how often they meet and what they discuss, as well as how to fit in sessions on specific topics such as budget matters.

“We really want to bring back education committees in some format. I realize that we’ve had to do away with them under the pandemic conditions that we operated under,” she said. “We really have to kind of recognize how we want to make our work more efficient and in a sense get out of the way of our staff, who are tasked with doing some monumental things as we navigate this unseen landscape, as well as just trying to get the work of running the district done.”

Ansari pointed out that in-person meetings might or might not be possible in September, or the board may consider some type of hybrid virtual model if some smaller meetings are allowed in school district buildings.

“If we are not allowed inside school buildings and we still continue under some form of COVID restrictions, then we will have a form similar to this one,” she said.

Ansari said the district likely won’t be given Ministry of Education direction on the matter until sometime in the summer, depending upon the provincial health officer’s orders. Once that direction comes, she said, the district will draft up a schedule and alert the public to how, and when, the board will meet.

School board information is posted online at www.newwestschools.ca.

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