Hawaii’s Board of Education endorses using modern technology in the classroom. When it comes to their own operations, though, they set a poor example of best practices in the 21st century. This is like your parents telling you to stay away from drugs while they light up cigarettes and sip wine.

The Cambridge (Massachusetts) Public School District School Committee (CPSD) meetings web site is an exemplary model of school board communications. Compare this to what the Hawaii Board of Education (BOE) offers.

Board of Education meeting

A Board of Education meeting. The board needs to improve its communications policies and practices.

Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat


Many CPSD meeting notices are posted weeks ahead of time. The BOE posts meeting notices on Wednesdays around 4:30 p.m., just six and a half days before a meeting — giving little time for public comment.

After a meeting, the CPSD posts a video of the proceedings within days. The BOE never posts recordings, and minutes are not posted until after the next meeting, two weeks to three months later.

Decisions are made without the public having a clue until after issues are finalized and set aside.


CPSD meeting agendas are detailed and organized. Supporting documents are included when the agenda is available. BOE agendas often lack supporting documentation when posted, and item descriptions are too general to be useful.

The CPSD and BOE both met Dec. 2, 2014. Find the minutes for these two meetings (using the links above.) How easy were
they to locate? The CPSD minutes are right at your fingertips. There are tabs for each year, and a table with links for each meeting’s files. The BOE’s chronological list of minutes is buried under several layers of hyperlinks, and links to the files are further buried in minutes.

The CPSD minutes are detailed and organized. BOE minutes are stream of consciousness live transcriptions by a clerk that often contain errors and omissions. CPSD video archives offer a completely accurate record of everything that was said.

Hawaii Needs 21st Century Communications

Hawaii’s people are divided by the geography of the islands. Almost one-third of Hawaii’s population cannot get to the state capital without a plane ticket. Of all the governments that could most benefit from state-of-the-art communications to transcend physical limitations, Hawaii is at the top of that list.

Compounding civic involvement problems inherent in physical separation, Hawaii has an attitude problem regarding democracy. In the past 120 years, Hawaii’s been ruled by a monarchy, a plutocracy, and now an oligarchy, each of which has instituted barriers to citizen participation.

Holding BOE meetings in the middle of the work day is a perfect example of an imposed, systemic barrier.

This kind of oppression has created an apathetic citizenry marked by a striking absence of community engagement in local public schools. You can’t blame people for not being involved when the system shuts them out.

The challenges of time and space can be overcome with high quality communications systems. The web stretches over oceans. Online video archives give us replay button to transcend time.

Twenty-first Century schools require 21st-century infrastructures. We can do better in Hawaii, and we owe it to all our students to model and practice civic responsibility through quality communication and transparency.

What Is Feasible?

Accurate information available to the public in a timely manner should be a high priority.

Recording BOE meetings is the best place to start. This will cost almost nothing to implement, and yields the most significant immediate benefit to all education stakeholders. Transparency is a cornerstone for building a new era of trust and collaboration in Hawaii’s schools.

There already is a DOE Communications Specialist sitting in BOE meetings tweeting about what’s happening. There’s a clerk typing minutes. Shouldn’t these people share the responsibility of videotaping the meetings instead? This is a more productive use of employee time on the taxpayer dime.

What Can You Do?

The only barrier is human will. Choices.

BOE members have chosen to not give the public timely recordings of their meetings. This is a problem.

The Governor chooses BOE appointees, and should exert some sway in aligning BOE operations with his action plan. This is hope.

You, average citizen, can choose to lend your voice to this campaign or remain silent. The winds of democracy are beginning to blow in Hawaii, and their strength is you. This is a pep talk.

Governor Ige promised to “not only strive to do the right thing, but do it the right way,” and that his administration “will be honest, transparent, accountable, and responsive to you.”

This positive message was a winner. For the first time since Hawaii became a state, an incumbent Governor’s bid
for re-election was unsuccessful. Hawaii citizens are awakening to the power they have when they exercise their democratic rights.

One of those is the right to petition the government for redress, to set right that which is wrong.

Governor Ige said he “will serve the public interest.” You need to let him know that you’re interested in watching BOE meetings online.

Next Steps

There are a few easy ways to voice your support. You can send emails to the the BOE (boe_hawaii@notes.k12.hi.us) and the Governor (governor.ige@hawaii.gov).

You may want to cc me: msvott@gmail.com. I’ll compile what I receive for later presentation to the Governor and BOE so your correspondence won’t get lost.

On Facebook, you can show support by joining the group set up for this purpose: BOE Watch.

Clicking “Join Group” simply means that you want to see recordings of BOE meetings online. It’s like voting. We won’t put you on a mailing list, inundate you with irrelevant postings, or ask for money.

The number of people who join the group and write letters will determine the success of this campaign. It’s up to us, and we can do it. Just 100 group members is statistically significant.

If that much support can’t get recordings of BOE meetings online, then I suppose it will be time for another article.

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Column lengths should be no more than 800 words and we need a current photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to news@civilbeat.org. The opinions and information expressed in Community Voices are solely those of the authors and not Civil Beat.

About the Author

  • Vanessa Ott
    Vanessa Ott is a former audio electronics and IT professional who became a Hawaii public school teacher in her mid 40s, and quit working for the DOE after five years of frustration. She now happily teaches piano lessons to beginning students of all ages, tutors children with reading difficulties, and helps elderly people with their computers.