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Palomar College board considers live-stream meetings

ESCONDIDO — The Palomar College Governing Board could become San Diego County’s first community college district to live stream its meetings.

Both Palomar College biology professor Lesley Williams and governing board trustee Nina Deerfield have endorsed the proposal.

Williams, who is hearing impaired, said she has asked the governing board to stream the meetings due in large part to the accompanying legal mandate to have closed captioning on televised items.

Williams said she can read lips to understand about 50% of what people say at the meetings if she has a plain view.

“Can you imagine having a conversation and only understanding half of what the other person is saying?” she asked. 

Deerfield supported the live stream proposal at the April 10 governing board meeting.

“All of the local city and school board meetings I’ve attended already have this in place,” said Deerfield. “It is the right thing to do for the hearing impaired and people that live too far to attend our meetings, for people with other commitments, and it is obviously the right thing to do for transparency.”

In response, Laura Gropen — Palomar College’s director of communications — said President Joi Lin Blake’s staff has begun researching the economic and logistical feasibility of live streaming.

Gropen says it comes down to having the manpower as well as the budget to pay for closed captioning technology.

The college at which Blake formerly served as president, College of Alameda, live streams its board meetings with closed captions under the umbrella of the Peralta Community College District board of trustees.

“I worked in other districts where it’s live-streamed, so that’s not an issue, so I’m not trying to block that or not make that happen,” Blake said at the April 10 meeting. “But we have to figure out how much it’s going to cost because the folks at Palomar College Television don’t work for free.”

Palomar College, akin to the San Francisco Bay-area Peralta TV, has its own television station in the form of Palomar College Television.

Currently, the Palomar College Governing Board audio records all of its meetings, making those available upon request.

At the April 10 meeting, Deerfield called for the past audio recordings of meetings to be made available on the board’s website “immediately.”

Deerfield described the current process as both “unacceptable and an unnecessary waste of our time.”

Blake said that audio of the meetings would soon be posted online and said that the feasibility study would continue to unfold over the coming weeks.

Unlike televised meetings, no legal mandate exists to provide closed captioning for audio recordings on California governmental meetings.

But Williams believes that the feasibility study for televising board meetings serves as a stalling tactic, saying that she believes Blake likes to “control the narrative” and wants to avoid an airing of the board’s “dirty laundry” to both the general public and press unable to attend meetings in-person.

Williams further said that at the May 14 Palomar College Governing Board meeting she may raise the live stream issue, during the open session portions of the meeting, as falling under the purview of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

Williams said she believes compliance with that legislation necessitates making accommodations to disabled individuals regardless of the cost.

According to emails she provided to The Coast News, Williams began asking for Governing Board meetings to be video-streamed with closed captioning beginning in February.

“Let me know what disability related modification/ accommodations you might need and I’ll do my best to get it done,” wrote Debra Doerfler, an assistant to Blake. “I’ve given Dr. Blake some information on had on file regarding what other districts are doing as well as some information/costs on live streaming and captioning.”

Williams considered live streaming with close-ups of people’s faces the “gold standard” but offered other suggestions too, which Palomar subsequently agreed to implement.

“In the meantime, would it be possible to (1) increase the volume on the microphones and (2) also turn the speaker podium slightly in your direction?,” wrote Williams in a February 27 email. “I think both of these adjustments would go a long way to increasing my ability to follow the conversation.”

Doerfler also asked if sign language could be an option in a March 8 email.

For the feasibility study, Gropen said that no particular Palomar College staffer has received the task as an assignment via Blake and no current timeline exists for the study’s completion.

If Palomar College does begin live-streaming its meetings and publishing them online, it would be the first of the five San Diego County community college districts to do so.

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