Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Lawyer Tells Wake County School Board to Stop Texting During Meetings

Last week, the attorney for the Wake County School Board officially advised them to stop texting during board meetings.  Board Attorney Ann Majestic, who researched the issue on the request of the school board chair, Ron Margiotta, recommended against board members texting or sending instant messages or emails during the public meetings.  Majestic's legal reasoning is that the meetings are supposed to give the public an insight into the board's deliberations.  However, if members are sending private messages to each other during the course of the meeting, the public is obviously not getting access to all the board's thinking and communications.

Personally, I am completely behind this opinion, both because I think the sunshine laws require that board communication in public meetings should be available to the public, but also because it is a pet peeve of mine to see public official texting and tweeting and such during official hearings and events.  It drives me crazy to watch public occasions, such as the State of the Union address, and see our national representatives not paying attention to the President because they are too busy typing away on their Blackberries.

But I think it is especially important in this case because it send a message to the students.  When the public or other board members are addressing the body, I think it is rude for other board members to be texting instead of listening.  I believe they should be paying complete attention to the limited amount of time that the public has to express its opinions.  I also believe students should be paying complete attention to the limited time that the teacher has to teach, rather than texting and e-chatting.  In my experience, these problems first start to arise in middle school, and teachers differ about how to deal with them.  Certainly, sometimes students are using their cell phones or laptops to access relevant material, and that is to be encouraged.  But the best way to make sure they are doing that, rather than chatting with their friends, is to set a policy that it is not appropriate to be carrying on private or off-topic discussions with friends during class, whether that is by voice, by written note, or by electronic communication.

I think the school board should set a good example for the students by refraining from electronic communications during board meetings, regardless of the legal issues about open meetings and sunshine legislation.  It is one way they can support teachers in the classrooms (even homeschool ones) without spending any money, building any facilities, or reassigning any students.

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