Hampstead School Board Bans Electronic Devices at Meetings

HAMPSTEAD – Although a resident asked the Hampstead School Board to revisit its decision to ban the use of electronic devices at board meetings, the board’s decision to keep the ban in place appears to fly in the face of the state’s Right to Know law.
Resident Suzanne Finocchiaro had asked the school board to rethink its decision to disallow the use of electronics during board meetings, but board chairwoman Natalie Gallo is adamant that people not use such devices at meetings.

Electronic devices include such things as tablet computers, laptops and cell phones.
Finocchairo said she missed the first school board meeting this fall, during which Chairwoman Natalie Gallo announced that the use of electronic devices by the audience was prohibited. Finocchairo contacted board member Greg Hoppa to ask if the board would reconsider that decision.
At the Tuesday, Sept. 10 meeting, the board members had varying reactions to the request to reconsider whether the audience can use electronic devices. Gallo said she thinks it is the responsibility of the chair and the board to interact, and said the board has been liberal in allowing guests three minutes to comment on agenda items.
Gallo also referenced the Hampstead School District Policy under which board members are not allowed to use electronic devices to connect with members of the public, but the policy “is not meant to prohibit Board members or district staff from using computers or similar devices during a meeting, provided such use is limited to purposes of the meeting only.”
Hoppa said he did not have a problem with the public using electronic devices so long as the use was not intrusive. Fellow board member Jason Cipriano said he didn’t see any reason why the public should not use electronic devices, so long as they weren’t disruptive.
Member Jim Stewart, however, said he was conflicted, as he encourages the use of electronics in the classroom while telling parents not to use the devices at board meetings. He noted there is no need for using a device for note taking, as the meeting is replayed many times on the local channel and on Vimeo, and said if the devices were distracting, the chair could ask the person to stop.
News reporters routinely take their own notes at board meetings, and many reporters use laptops or tablets to do so.
Board member Jaye Dimando said, however, that the chair runs the meeting and it should be her decision. She also said her opinion is that it is rude for people in the audience to use electronic devices.
Gallo said the school board meeting is a business meeting of the board, and she wants to keep it that way. “I respectfully request people not to use electronic devices during meetings,” she said.
“The chair sets the tone of the meeting and makes the rules that control the meeting, and Natalie prefers not to allow the use of electronic devices,” Stewart elaborated.
Cipriano and Hoppa said they were willing to abide by Gallo’s decision.
Gallo referenced a paragraph on the sign-in sheet for those wishing to comment during public comment. It states, “Meetings of public bodies subject to the Right to Know law are open to the public unless the body is authorized to hold a non-public session. The public’s right to attend a meeting established by the Right to Know law does not convey a right to speak or participate. Many public bodies voluntarily establish appropriate regulated public comment periods at some meetings; however, this is not required by the Right to Know law.”
Contacted after the meeting, Finocchiaro said she found it disturbing that a board that supposedly encourages the use of technology for students disallows it for parents. She said the board has time and time again said the audience is just there to observe and the meeting is the board’s, leading Finocchiaro to question how members of the audience using electronic devices would pose a problem. She said she fails to see how such use is disruptive.
“I use my electronic device to take notes – the board uses acronyms and I need to look them up, and they refer to policies, and I would like to be able to reference those policies right then,” she said. “I do watch the Vimeo but I don’t think we in the audience should have to watch it to take notes. I also don’t understand why Jaye Dimando considers a member of the audience using an electronic device as being rude or disrespectful. But I am concerned that Jim Stewart professes to encourage technology in the schools but would go along with prohibiting parents from using electronic devices in a non-disruptive manner during meetings.
“I have to ask,” she said, “whether it is any more disruptive to take notes on an electronic devise than by manually writing notes, so long as it isn’t done disruptively.”
Resident Jorge Mesa-Tejada, after watching the meeting, noted that the use of electronic equipment during meetings is covered by RSA 91-A:2. The relevant passage states, “Any person shall be permitted to use recording devices, including, but not limited to, tape recorders, cameras, and videotape equipment, at such meetings.”
Furthermore he pointed out that members of the board use iPads and/or computers, which allow messages to be sent to the board member during a meeting from the audience or from home. He said statute requires such messages to be immediately disclosed.
This is covered under RSA91-A:2, III (c). The relevant passage states, “No meeting shall be conducted by electronic mail or any other form of communication that does not permit the public to hear, read, or otherwise discern meeting discussion contemporaneously at the meeting location specified in the meeting notice.”
Based on those portions of statute, Mesa-Tejada questioned the correctness of Gallo’s decision to ban the

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