Local Government and Politics, News

Saugus School Committee to adopt policy on what members should say on social media

SAUGUS — A policy that restricts what School Committee members can say on social media will be read for a second time and adopted Jan. 10.

Linda Gaieski, chairwoman of the policy subcommittee of the School Committee, drafted the policy, which was presented to the full School Committee in December. It states that members “shall exercise caution when communicating between and among themselves” through email, social media, and internet forums.

The policy reinforces that the Open Meeting Law should not be violated on social media and that a quorum could be arrived at using electronic messaging.

A set of guidelines that accompany the policy state that members should avoid deliberating school district business with a quorum of the board, direct complaints or concerns presented online to the superintendent, avoid posting content that indicates that they have already formed an opinion on pending matters, post only content that the district has already released to the public, and conduct themselves in a manner that reflects well on the district. They would be asked to avoid posting information that has not been verified and made public by the district and not to post anonymously about school business.

When trying to restate what happened at a previous board meeting, members should clarify that their statement is not an official record of the meeting, according to the guidelines.

“The new proposed social media policy presently under consideration in no way is an attempt to infringe upon or restrict any members’ right to freedom of speech, but is instead an effort to ensure the open meeting laws are not violated in any way by school committee members’ use of social media as well as email communication, internet, and web forums,” said Gaieski.

The School Committee was found to be in violation of the Open Meeting Law more than once in the past year. First, Attorney General Maura Healey determined a set of executive session minutes lacked sufficient detail. Later, the committee was found to be in violation of holding a meeting in a location other than what was posted on the meeting agenda. The agenda was also found to lack sufficient specificity to indicate what was discussed in executive session.

Healey ordered the committee to comply with the law moving forward, cautioning that similar future violations may be considered evidence of intent to violate the law. They were also ordered to amend the minutes to include more details and release them within 30 days.

School Committee member Lisa Morgante said she has concerns about the restrictions when it comes to her role as a parent. She worries that if it’s a violation of the policy to exchange emails among three or more people, she won’t be able to advocate for her children on personal matters.

“I still have two children (in Saugus Public Schools) that I do have concerns about — whether it be athletics, whether it be grades — and I feel that my voice is completely gone,” Morgante said in December. “As a parent, I feel like I’ve lost control of everything on some things. I want to reel that back in and be a parent first and a School Committee member second, because that’s what I actually am.”

Superintendent Dr. David DeRuosi advised her to start by addressing teachers and building principals, then contacting his office to set up a meeting.

The conversation was tense as members debated the policy. Chairwoman Jeannie Meredith told members to be respectful of one another, “because that’s what we do here.”

“Obviously we do,” said committee member Liz Marchese.

“I don’t know about that,” said Meredith.

Marchese questioned how the policy would be enforced.

“One of the biggest problems I’ve seen as the chair of this committee is trying to get members to follow any of the policies that we have,” said Meredith. “So as far as enforcing the policy, there is no real way to enforce it. You set the policy and you hope that the members are going to agree to follow them because we remember that we are setting these policies and we are role models for the students and the community. So, I would say that we hope that out of respect for our community members and the people that we are elected to represent, that we all follow them.”

Committee member Marc Magliozzi requested the policy at a meeting in September.

“With everything that’s been going on in town lately — whether it’s teachers, whether it’s football, whether it’s getting let out of school early because it’s hot, or staying in school all day because it’s hot — can we have the policy subcommittee look at something with our social media presence as elected officials?” Magliozzi asked.

The officials are representing the district in a time when social media has become part of everyday life, which is a challenge, said Magliozzi.

“I think we’re in a different world now,” he said. “Social media is something that we live with, but as parents and as elected officials, we wear two different hats, many times at the same time.”

“I know I may find myself at some points wanting to say things (on social media) that may be from the heart, but (it) might not be beneficial for all the people we represent,” he said.

The second read of the policy will be on Jan. 10.

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