The largest school district in San Jose does not broadcast its board meetings, potentially excluding voices from disadvantaged families who can’t attend in person.
The San Jose Unified School District has not provided a live broadcast of its board meetings since May—despite the pandemic—when its board returned to in-person sessions. The only way residents can voice public comment is to show up to the meetings, leaving some parents out of discussions that directly affect their children.
Crystal Calhoun, grandmother to three SJUSD students and spokesperson for the San Jose Unified Equity Coalition, said the lack of a live broadcast puts families of color at a disadvantage.
“Mainly that board serves an affluent white community,” she told San José Spotlight. “They can show up.”
SJUSD predominantly serves Hispanic and Latino students, with approximately 53% identifying as Hispanic or Latino.
According to the 2018 Silicon Valley Latino Report Card conducted by the Hispanic Foundation of Silicon Valley, 57% of Latino households in Silicon Valley had income below the self-sufficiency standard, which accounts for basic needs.
Santa Clara County’s Latino community was the hardest hit by the pandemic. According to the county, Latinos made up 51% of the positive cases, while only making up 25.8% of the total population.
These factors make it difficult for families to attend San Jose Unified School District board meetings in person.
Brian Wheatley, SJUSD board president, said the board does not have plans to pursue a hybrid option to broadcast meetings, but it’s willing to change that if COVID-19 cases continue to rise in San Jose.
Wheatley also said the board wants to set an example for district employees during the pandemic by showing up in person.
“It would feel disingenuous somehow to tell our teachers for example… ‘you need to be in person with all your kids, but we’re going to be on WebX,’” he told San José Spotlight.
Calhoun said the decision to not broadcast board meetings live excludes families of color from board decisions.
“They really don’t want to hear from them,” she said, adding that she doesn’t feel the board listens to the community. “If you say you’re there for my students and my grandchildren and all that good stuff, then why can’t you listen to me? Why can’t you talk to me before you make these decisions? If you don’t talk to me and you don’t listen to me, you don’t care.”
Wheatley said if residents can’t attend meetings in person, they can email him and other board members.
“If someone wants to reach out and share a perspective, they can always do that,” he said.
Alex Lee, District 25 assemblymember, helped author a bill currently under review that would require government meetings in California to broadcast live via teleconference even after the pandemic. While the bill would only apply to government meetings, it could set a precedent for other public bodies such as the SJUSD board for how they receive public participation.
“Having digital access, real technological access, means that you have working people, you have parents, you have people with different abilities, different language abilities, who are now more readily available to participate,” Lee said.
Calhoun said she wants the SJUSD board to hear the community’s thoughts and take them into account when making decisions that will have a large impact on students.
“What I want to see in the board is them actually asking for community support and sitting down and actually talking to us, and listening, not just talking but actually listening,” she said.