Dunkirk officials debate airing school board meetings on TV

Dunkirk Mayor Wilfred Rosas has been receiving a lot of phone calls lately in regards to the city televising the Dunkirk School Board meetings.

“Residents want the school board meetings to be shown on Dunkirk Access,” Vicki Westling, Rosas’ executive assistant, stated at a recent Dunkirk Board of Education workshop. “With the Dunkirk Access channel, we’re really doing a lot of things with the Chamber and other various organizations.”

According to Westling, city hall has received requests from citizens and they feel that since the regular school board meetings are open to the public, with the press there, Dunkirk Access should be there as well.

She was concerned, as was the mayor, that occasionally a student’s name may pop-up, and in those cases the names could be edited out if the board so desires.

“We understand there are some concerns about confidentiality and the student’s names being mentioned, so there are a couple of things we can do,” Westling said. “We won’t show the meetings live, we’ll tape them instead and then edit out anything that would be of a confidential nature. There would have to be a disclaimer of sorts stating that ‘in order to protect the confidentiality of any student, should a student’s name be brought up, it will not be shown.’ Other than that there would be nothing else edited.”

She went on to say that executive sessions would obviously not be shown and unless requested, the workshops wouldn’t be either. These would strictly be the regular monthly meetings.

Some board members didn’t agree with the notion of airing the meetings, mostly due to the ‘editing’ idea.

“I’m just afraid that if we have the ability to edit, it’s still going to be out there ‘what are we editing out,'” Board Member Adam Reisenweber said.

“The community would still wonder ‘Well they edited this, they edited that, what else have they edited?’ The only place that a student’s name would appear would be during public comments, and technically they’re (the public) not permitted to do that, but it happens sometimes. It doesn’t happen that often.”

“That’s what we would certainly remove,” Westling responded. “As long as there’s true transparency, but with a disclaimer, as we certainly do need to protect the students if at all possible.”

“I would like to see the community members come to the meetings, I realize there’s some older people that can’t attend the meetings, but if you’re really that interested they should be here,” Board Vice President Claudia Szczerbacki added, her sentiments receiving agreement from other members as well.

“They should be here, but we can see that they aren’t, so I think that you have to bring it forward. The Dunkirk Access channel is a public channel for education, for the schools and for the city. I think that the most we can do is to be as transparent as possible and protect confidentiality,” Westling stated.

“What I would suggest is that the board reaches out to our solicitor to figure out what is permissible and what is required,” Superintendent James Tracy said.

“Hopefully we’ve spoken for those people that do keep calling in to city hall,” Westling said. “From the mayor’s point of view, we really would like to be able to have Dunkirk Access show what’s happening.”

In a statement to the OBSERVER, Mayor Rosas added that Dunkirk Access is looking to provide more programming for city residents.

“School board meetings are something that we have received some calls about,” Rosas stated. “People would like to see them televised, but again the governing body of the school district is the school board, so they get to decide whether or not they want them shown or not.”