It was in a secret meeting at the Old South Meeting House that the Sons of Liberty masterminded the Boston Tea Party. Today, Americans cannot abide secret meetings. With the Brown Act, California has anticipated every possible variation on the theme, banning school boards from unscheduled meetings, business conducted at social gatherings, and even email chains that become de facto “deliberations.” A recent amendment that takes effect January 2019 gave the green light to online posting of meeting notices, agendas and minutes as sufficiently “open” meeting communications. A good board portal can help California school boards comply with the Brown Act in six ways:
A recent amendment (AB2257) will let school boards satisfy the same open meeting requirement by posting the agenda on a public-facing website as of January 2019. While this benefit did not necessarily inform the debate on the amendment, the change may do a great deal to “open” meetings serendipitously: Some demographic groups traditionally unresponsive to public paper postings – such as young adults and the homebound – routinely access the internet. Their sense of civic engagement, as well as their likelihood to contribute their voices to online forums, is likely to increase.
Members of the board or a subcommittee can see materials that include personal information, while a scrubbed version appears on the screens of everyone else.
A clever use of technology lets board members (and the public, if desired) contribute comments to a shared document without running the risk of holding a de facto “meeting.” Collaborative editing allows authorized contributors to put their questions and remarks about a document on a version of that document that then instantaneously refreshes. Every subsequent reader sees the same marked-up version, with each commentator’s notes identified by name.
School districts – along with hospitals and universities – perfectly fit the surprising profile sought by hackers. First, corruption of some of their digital files would create operational standstills of much-needed services. Second, most districts could access the $51,000 that is the average ransom demanded by hackers who corrupt data and charge districts to restore it unencrypted. Simply creating a website on the cloud puts a district’s files in easy reach of ransomware schemes that thrive on hitting such targets.
The right technology can provide the utmost cybersecurity available. That means storing files on a private cloud and providing full 256-bit encryption. Simple storage on “the cloud” leaves district data exposed, as does software offering no encryption or only 128-bit encryption.
The Brown Act asks a lot of California school boards, and technology can help them comply. With a top-flight, public-facing portal, districts can post meeting notices, provide citizens with more background material, make that material more useful, control who reads what and facilitate board communication without creating a rolling quorum. The right software can even protect the district’s data from hackers who would abuse the extension of “openness” to the virtual domain. With technology, school boards can make their district data open to more citizens than ever before – but still keep it safe from bad actors who would abuse that exposure.