Update: The Board of Education voted 3-1, with Shana Segal dissenting and Todd Collins absent, on Oct. 20 to eliminate Zoom access for public comments for the next three meetings.
The Palo Alto Unified School District is preparing to temporarily ban members of the public from addressing the school board via Zoom – a prohibition that was inspired by a series of lewd, racist comments that disrupted a City Council meeting this week.
The district's Board of Education has scheduled a special meeting on Oct. 20 to eliminate Zoom access for public comments for the next three board meetings, according to a report released Wednesday. Extending the suspension of Zoom comments beyond December would require an additional vote by the school board, according to the report.
The report calls the suspension "a temporary measure to address immediate concern."
"The safety and effectiveness of our virtual communication platform are paramount, and this suspension will allow us to address and mitigate any issues that have arisen," the school board report states. "Thank you for your understanding and cooperation as we work to ensure a respectful and productive environment for all participants during our meetings."
The decision comes days after various public commenters made lewd, racist and anti-Semitic comments at the Oct. 16 meeting of the City Council, comments that were repeatedly denounced by Mayor Lydia Kou. Two school board members participated in a discussion at that meeting focusing on Cubberley Community Center, with Board member Todd Collins attending the meeting and board President Jennifer DiBrienza commenting virtually by Zoom.
District Superintendent Don Austin said Thursday that the board is looking at ways to respond to the recent "Zoom bombing" trend, which has disrupted meetings throughout the region.
"Right now, there's enough real debate about topics local and beyond," Austin said at the Thursday morning meeting of the City/School Liaison Committee, which consists of members of the school board and the City Council. "It's terrible that some people are using this as an opportunity to do some things for sport that are really awful."
In restricting comments, the school district is following the lead of Redwood City, Union City, Milpitas and several other cities in the Bay Area which recently banned public comments by Zoom in response to lewd and racist comments made by members of the public at meetings.
The Palo Alto council, for its part, is not planning to make any changes at this time. City Manager Ed Shikada told this publication that the city will continue to accept virtual public comments at City Council meetings for the time being.