One of the most exciting innovations the Fairfax County School Board has been working on over the past year is to give the public the option to submit YouTube video testimonies.
Tonight, after nine months of discussing it, that dream will become a reality. That’s right – citizens no longer have to travel to Luther Jackson Middle School in Merrifield, where bi-weekly business meetings are held, to express their views – they can merely upload them to YouTube from the comfort of their bedroom.
Fairfax County’s School Board will be the first anywhere to have created this option for citizens, and there is little doubt that other school districts and boards will follow in our footsteps.
The idea came from a budget work-session in January, the first for the newly elected School Board, when a community member suggested that the Board should have alternative ways for community members to submit testimony on the budget.
I sketched the initial plan for the YouTube testimonies, which was then taken up by the Public Engagement Committee, then chaired by Mount Vernon Representative Dan Storck, who worked with the Departments of Communications and Community Outreach and Information Technology to bring it to fruition. FCPS staff deserves much credit for embracing the idea.
There were two primary motivators for this technological shift. First, School Board members have always been concerned about the difficulty of reaching the many community members who lack the time and cannot afford the expense to travel to Luther Jackson. We continue to discuss holding meetings in other parts of the county, but that can be logistically challenging and expensive since our meetings are all broadcast live on Red Apple 21. The YouTube option allows us to hear from those populations without the added logistical expense. Of course, access to a video camera can also be a challenge for community members, but students and employees can access those resources at their local schools.
Second, the frenetic pace of life in Fairfax County prevents many of us from making it to meetings on time. Those who have the time to attend School Board meetings often run into traffic delays, and our students and teachers historically have had to take time away from homework and class preparation to come to Luther Jackson. Now, they can contribute to the dialogue without having to spend gas money, take time away from homework or miss their favorite TV shows.
Residents of Fairfax County and Fairfax City, employees of Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) and Fairfax County business partners are all permitted to submit video testimony. Just like testifying at Luther Jackson, presenters are limited to three minutes, and they must address topics on the agenda for that meeting, including specific presentations, new business items, action items, or resolutions.
Because of Federal Communications Commission requirements regarding what can be broadcast on television, School Board staff will first review the videos to make sure they uphold the same decorum required for in-person testimonies, and the School Board chairman will make the final determination of which videos will be presented during the citizen participation segment of the meeting.
Although we did not receive any YouTube testimonies this week, I am confident that, as the community becomes aware of the option, we will hear from many new stakeholders and be able to make more informed decisions. You can submit yours at http://www.fcps.edu/schlbd/meetings/requestspeak.shtml. However, we still hope you’ll make the trip to join us in-person at Luther Jackson every two weeks if you can. And please, no cat videos.
Ryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.