It’s the Law

The Hampstead School Board chair’s decision to “respectfully request” audience members to refrain from using electronic devices, and the board’s agreement with that request, flies in the face of the state’s Right to Know law, and its justification is based on little more than the chairman’s wishes. That’s not enough.
RSA 91-A:2 clearly states that people are permitted to use “recording devices, including, but not limited to, tape recorders, cameras and videotape equipment, at such meetings.” Newer electronic devices contain all three. Considering cell phone texting at a meeting to be rude does not justify excluding it.
So why this misguided action? Is it an attempt to head off dissent?
It’s perfectly appropriate to require cell phone ringers and sound be turned off during meetings. The tapping of laptop keyboards doesn’t make for much of a disruptive sound, and touch screens on tablets and cell phones are almost silent. We’re not sure, therefore, how use of the devices could create a problem.
Perhaps an audience member texting a friend at home to come down to the meeting because of the topic being discussed? That’s no different than people watching the meeting on TV and jumping in the car to head to the meeting to make their voices heard.
In the last year or so, parents have begun to speak up against the Hampstead board’s actions, usually in a restrained and polite fashion.
It’s best never to fear or restrict the voice of the electorate. People are going to disagree with some decisions of every board. Sure, parents can sign up to speak during public comment. But telling them not to use electronic devices won’t curtail their dissent, although it may well make people angrier.
School board meetings are open to the public but are the board’s meeting. No argument there. Nevertheless, the purpose of the meeting is not to prevent the public from taking notes, making comments to others, or looking up information. What could the board fear from that?
The world is changing rapidly, and school districts routinely make use of technology in the classroom, in ways no one could have imagined just a few years ago. The library, for example, is now a media center. Indeed, not using technology in the classroom would be the exception these days, not the rule. Telling audience members not to use that same technology during board meetings raises the spectre of hypocrisy.
Personal preference is not a justifiable reason to keep the modern world at bay during Hampstead School Board meetings. But it’s a good way to alienate residents and make parents wonder what the board really fears.