After a single meeting, newly-elected Harwood Unified Union School District Board member from Waterbury, Jacqueline Kelleher, resigned after the district and school board leadership declined her request to provide a computer or electronic device on which to conduct board business.
Her resignation over lack of access to a board device and the issues she raised around board members using their personal devices for board work is something that the board is now going to look into board chair Kristen Rodgers said via email this week.
“While in the past I do not believe that owning a computer was a requirement for a board member, in today's age it may be. We have too many time-sensitive and confidential documents and messages to manage that paper copies would be obsolete and break confidentiality laws. Additionally, board and committee meetings are still hybrid and could change at a moment's notice. We have not yet encountered a member who cannot afford the technology. If we do, the full board would have to decide how to deal with that issue. Thankfully, the board stipend would cover the cost of a laptop,” Rodgers noted.
“This situation has caused us to pause at our practices and while we navigate these new requirements and times, we realize there is more discussion to be had on this topic,” she added and said that this issue has never come up in the past despite having board members who were state employees, as Kelleher is.
Kelleher was elected as a write-in candidate on Town Meeting Day, March 1, becoming one of the town’s four representatives on the six-town school district. Shortly after being elected and being sworn in Kelleher reached out to Alyssa Dybala, administrative assistant to Superintendent Brigid Nease, requesting use the of a district computer. She explained, from her personal email, that it would be inappropriate to use her work computer for board work and said she currently had only her phone which would not be sustainable for workflow.
She was told the board did not provide devices for board members. Kelleher attended the March 9, using her phone to access documents and subsequently asked board chair Kristen Rodgers and vice chair Kelley Hacket again requesting access to one the Chromebooks or other electronic devices the district makes available to students and others.
Rodgers responded on March 11 and said that because the school did not budget for the cost of loaner devices for board members, one could not be provided. Rodgers said that paper copies of agendas and the board packet could be provided but noted that it was not ideal.
“Additionally the expectation is that all board members have access to email, Zoom, committee meetings, confidential files and time-sensitive blasts. These responsibilities would not be suitable for printing or going through a third party,” Rodgers wrote.
She suggested that Kelleher use the $750 stipend board members received for serving to purchase a new device, use her personal computer, ask her town to purchase a device for her or resign by April 1.
On March 14, Kelleher detailed her concerns via an email to Rodgers and Hackett. She said the board’s position was unfortunate and said she’d confirmed with the Waterbury town clerk that having access to a personal electronic device is not a prerequisite to serving as a volunteer on the board.
“There is not town policy that says to volunteer in service you must have a personal electronic device and maintain sensitive district information within. I’m not going to volunteer for a board that will essentially say you must have access to personal technology to engage in board business. I will not serve as a volunteer where public citizens offering to serve are not given equitable access and opportunity to support a district,” she wrote.
“This is elitist and quite frankly discriminatory. I have dedicated my life to access, equity and opportunity for children, youth and families. Clearly this board work does not align with values that I have,” Kelleher wrote from her school district email.
She further pointed out that she finds it unacceptable that board’s members are asked to use their personal devices to work on and maintain highly-sensitive district information, given that that information is subject to freedom of information requests and potential seizure should there be litigation.
“Not to mention concerns with cybersecurity that have not been covered with the board,” she noted.
She also pointed out that requiring board members to use their own devices make them vulnerable to the discovery process which can place them at risk. She said that typically, in other states, districts issue electronic equipment and email systems for board member business.
“As I reflected further on the issue, it moved beyond the uncomfortable question of using personal devices which leaves board member privacy vulnerable, to one of equity and access in this role. Why do we lack an option for those who elect not to use or do not have a personal device? There are many qualified voters in this district who may not be able to serve a school board given their economic or resource circumstances and this is unacceptable,” Kelleher wrote.
She ended that email with her resignation and said, “I had a lot to offer our district. I am deeply saddened I cannot afford (literally) to serve my community and share my professional expertise as we forge ahead in these challenging times.”
After she submitted her resignation, Kelleher stopped using her HUUSD Board email address and hence did not see a March 16 email from Rodgers (which was not copied to Kelleher’s personal email) in which Rodgers asked her to reconsider and offered to have Kelleher’s board stipend paid in advance of next March so she could purchase a laptop for board work.