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Ferndale School Board online meeting disrupted – rescheduled

Ferndale School District sign outside the administration building on Vista Drive (October 22, 2016). Photo: Whatcom News

FERNDALE, Wash. — Ferndale School District officials said today they would attempt to reconvene a Ferndale School Board regular meeting Thursday after it was disrupted last night, March 31st.

Due to social distancing mandates, open meetings by public agencies have been driven to utilize online video conferencing services that enable the agency members to conduct their business while public attendees can watch and listen.

The Ferndale School Board used a popular tool for holding classes and internal meetings by Zoom Video Communications. Zoom has become increasingly popular since the closures of schools and stay-at-home mandates have been implemented around the globe to minimize the spread of the infectious COVID-19 disease.

Unfortunately, Zoom’s popularity has made it a target for disruptors and that was demonstrated last night as “the meeting was overtaken by loud music and obscenities,” according to District officials. The disruption begin shortly after the online video conference began forcing district officials to shutdown the conference, essentially ending the meeting before it began.

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Ferndale School Board President Andrew McLaurin said, “We are really sorry to anyone who was offended tonight. We will work hard to try to come up with a solution so that this never happens again.”

The meeting’s agenda included,

  • At the school board’s special meeting of March 17, 2020, the board decided to rescind the School Programs and Operations Replacement Levy from the April 2020 ballot. The Whatcom County Auditor’s office requires an official resolution be adopted by the board to rescind the measure.
  • Board members will begin a discussion about whether to run the School Programs and Operations Replacement Levy ballot measure again in 2020. State law allows them to do so in either the August or November elections.
  • A resolution to suspend Board policy thereby granting the District Superintendent emergency authority during the COVID-19 closure.

Plans are to reconvene the meeting Thursday evening, April 2nd. In lieu of being able to provide a public comment segment during the online meetings, the public is encouraged to mail or email comments to the School Board members.

Cybersecurity author Marvin Waschke said in a recent blog post that while he has head of the troubles Zoom has been encountering, “I don’t expect folks to quit using Zoom, and I don’t plan to quit myself. It’s popular for good reason: it works well and is remarkably easy to use.”

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Waschke listed his concerns with Zoom:

  • Zoom shares data with companies like Facebook and other data brokers. That is what it is. I don’t like it, but it’s part of the 21st century. I believe we can and should do something to fix the data sharing digital economy, but nothing will happen overnight. I wish Zoom would just stop it, but I have little hope that they will until they are forced to. 
  • Zoom meetings are subject to unwanted intruders and harassment. Louts sneak in and flash pornography and hate messages. They dominate chat sessions. Meetings, like town meetings or church and temple services, can turn into travesties and have to break up.

Waschke offered advice when using Zoom including:

  • Access Zoom through your web browser. Don’t install the Zoom app. Many of the ongoing problems have come from the app, so avoid it, at least until Zoom gets their house in order.
  • Protect the screen sharing option. When setting up a meeting, you can restrict who can share and who can start sharing when someone else is sharing. Change these settings during a meeting by clicking on the down caret next to the “Share Screen” button at the bottom of the screen.

City of Ferndale Communications Coordinator Riley Sweeney said Monday’s City Council regular meeting is currently planned to also be held via an online video conference but using a different system, Microsoft Teams. Riley said the reason for choosing Teams was it integrates well with the City’s existing use of the Microsoft Office suite of tools while providing stronger protections.

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