Individual school board members should be free to talk to student media

January 28, 2019 — by Shreya Katkere

Last October, Falcon reporters tried to write a story to raise awareness about what the Los Gatos-Saratoga Union High School District school board does.

Unfortunately, that story was never published, and not by reporters’ choice.

The reporters did not finish writing the story, and a large reason was that they only had one contact to source for all their quotes and any other relevant information — the president of the school board at the time, Robin Mano. In essence, the board’s one-voice policy contributed to The Falcon not covering the story.

The school board’s reasoning for this policy is to present a unified opinion to the public, as opposed to allowing each board member to offer their own opinions about issues, no matter how different those opinions may be.

This policy was instituted after the highly contentious debate over the current bell schedule a few years ago. During that debate, members of the board spoke individually and sometimes contradicted each other. Soon after, the board decided that it was better to minimize this public disagreement and only speak with one voice to the media.

But this policy of only letting the president speak to reporters has the effect of stifling the free flow of information and opinions. After all, nothing is wrong with two members of the school board disagreeing on an issue; indeed, this disagreement among board members  is necessary to create better policies and reach better decisions — and each board member ought to be able to talk to the press and express the nuances of their opinions.

By only allowing only the president to speak for all five members, the opinions and ideas of some members of the board might never reach the public. In other words, some members might have an important view which is not common among other members and they will not be able to convey it to the broader a community.

This problem is more than just an issue about presenting a unified opinion to reporters and other members of the public. When all communications to the school board run into a bottleneck because they can only go through one person, that prevents vital news from being shared with those who deserve to know that information the most: the students and parents who are served by that school board. To this day, many students are have no idea what the board exactly does. The story The Falcon was writing was meant to clarify the gray areas that students did not understand and would have been a public service.

This policy is particularly questionable during election season when board members running to retain their seat refuse to speak to the media about their own individual views. (This also affected The Falcon’s election coverage this past November.)

The school board should change this ill-advised policy. Having disagreement among members of the board does not hinder its progress or endanger its mission; in fact, hearing out all opinions from all elected public officials is a crucial part of making school-related decisions. But when the school board decides to filter all media-related communications through one person, they are doing everyone, especially the students of the district, a disservice.