Easthampton School Committee meeting canceled after public overwhelms online platforms
|Published: 04-05-2023 8:33 PM
EASTHAMPTON — A School Committee meeting Tuesday night to discuss the search for a new superintendent of schools went off the rails and was canceled after hundreds of people attempted to sign into the Zoom session and were cut off when the meeting hit its limit of 300 participants.
School Committee members didn’t realize until moments before their meeting started that there was a limit on the number of people who could attend the virtual session. The meeting quickly reached capacity as people logged on to discuss recent developments in the superintendent search, including last Thursday’s decision by the committee to rescind a job offer made to finalist Vito Perrone due to what he says was his use of the word “ladies” in a recent email addressing School Committee Chairperson Cynthia Kwiecinski and Suzanne Colby, executive assistant to the committee.
As it turned out, the attendance also tested the capacity of the livestream for Easthampton’s public access television station, e.media. It was not entirely clear how many people were trying to attend the meeting between the two platforms.
“Apparently there is (a limit),” Jeff Mastroianni, executive director for the city-based nonprofit, told the Gazette. “It just took an international incident for us to get there.”
Before the meeting was called to order, Kwiecinski indicated that fellow members Marin Goldstein and Ben Hersey were unable to enter the virtual session. One attendee suggested that a few people volunteer to leave the meeting and Kwiecinski agreed with the notion.
“I think we’re going to need a few people to volunteer to leave at least to let Marin and Ben in,” she said.
Although the suggestion prompted a few people to exit the meeting, some questioned whether they would be allowed to return. An attendee named Tom Shea disagreed with the suggestion, telling Kwiecinski that he didn’t think she could ask or deny people admittance, encouraging her to reschedule the meeting.
Meanwhile, others began to chime in when Mayor Nicole LaChapelle called for a point of order.
“We have had many in-person meetings in City Hall, which has a capacity of 100 people and when we’ve reached 100 people, we have to have people leave because of fire laws, and the meeting is still legal to go on and I’ll check with the counsel but … I would remind the members of the committee as well as the public, anytime … council chambers go over 100, the room is cleared to 100 and it’s legal to proceed.”
Committee member Megan Harvey pointed out that there is also a livestream via e.media, formerly Easthampton Media, that members of the public could turn to if they wanted to tune in. But as quickly as that was suggested, it appeared the livestream for the public access television station had also reached capacity, said committee member Laurie Garcia.
“I have people texting people saying they want to be able to participate and they’re unable to get in,” said Garcia. “People that intend to speak. I don’t see how we can continue without enabling everyone who wants to.”
LaChapelle interrupted to say that she was going back and forth with the city’s legal counsel at that moment.
Some attendees proposed holding a meeting at an in-person venue like the high school auditorium that could accommodate the number of people who may want to attend. Amid this suggestion, people began shouting in agreement, with some interjecting insults and name-calling.
Inaudible shouting continued as Kwiecinski said she was unable to locate which members in attendance were not muted.
“We need to have everyone stay muted until we find out what we’re going to do,” she said. “So, mayor, what was it that you were just trying to say that I could not quite hear?”
LaChapelle said that with the new state regulations, under these circumstances, the meeting would have to be canceled and rescheduled. She added that the city’s legal counsel agreed.
“Everyone who wants to attend must and it’s the choice of the chair what form it takes as long as it’s posted on the agenda, and we can increase the number of participants on our Zoom counts up to 1,200,” said LaChapelle. “We’re not able to do that right now as we’re in this meeting, but it’s very easy to do — we could do it tomorrow morning.”
As members tried to sort out what the next steps would be, attendees again interjected various opinions, including random shouts of “in-person!” and “shut up!”
LaChapelle advised Kwiecinski to reschedule the meeting in whatever format she wanted, adding that she was under no obligation to do it at that moment.
“We will have to investigate the problem with how we’re going to have a meeting and then we’ll put an agenda together and go forward,” said Kwiecinski.
A date and time to discuss the superintendent search will be forthcoming.
Interviews for the superintendent search — of finalists Perrone, Jonathan Bruno, director of learning and teaching at Berkshire Hills Regional School District in Stockbridge, and Erica Faginski-Stark, director of curriculum and instruction at Ludlow Public Schools — are available via the Easthampton Media YouTube channel.
As for e.media, Mastroianni said he would be talking to the system’s manufacturer, but estimates that the overloading of the livestream was likely an “outlier” incident.Emily Thurlow can be reached at email@example.com.