Local school districts use social media sites like Facebook and Instagram as an added form of communication with parents and the community. Some School Board trustees in the Saugerties Central School District (SCSD) want the public to know that they are being seen.
Traditionally, there are logistical bumps in the road at the beginning of a school year, and this year in Saugerties, parents on Facebook complained that those included bus schedule snafus and free and reduced lunch denials, with some students forced to wait outside in the rain on opening day before the doors were opened.
“It was a TERRIBLE DAY!” wrote Kristy DePasquale in response to a first day of school post on the officials SCSD Facebook page. “Not only did you LOSE OUR KIDS on transportation…you DENIED KIDS SCHOOL LUNCH!…Address the entire town please. We deserve answers.”
Another parent, Lisa Bach, replied to the district with a scheduling issue.
“They changed my son’s lunch period so by the time he got to lunch it was over,” she wrote. “He did not eat today.”
At a meeting of the SCSD Board of Education on Tuesday, September 13, trustee Krista Barringer said that she keeps an eye on Facebook, even if she isn’t able to respond.
“I see what’s happening on Facebook,” Barringer said. “I see what people are saying. We don’t respond because our bylaws indicate that we can’t respond, but know that we’re watching and we’re aware of what people are saying. So even if people are not speaking in public comment period here, I believe I can say I’m watching and I’m aware, and it’s not something that we’re ignoring.”
Fellow trustee Timothy Wells said he’s not always active on social media, but is open to hearing from members of the community.
“I got off of Facebook just because I didn’t want see it all, but I still get the opportunity to…and we do see what you guys are saying,” Wells said. “We are taking that to heart. We are having discussions amongst each other. We are bringing stuff up to, to the superintendent to kind of get some sort of understanding of what’s going on. So when the emails or calls come from you, we can maybe try and get some sort of an intelligent answer ourselves…When an email’s directed to me, I’ve never not responded.”
Trustee William Ball said he liked to see the community share their feelings on social media.
“I use share loosely because sometimes it is just venting, and that’s okay,” Ball said. “It really is truly okay that people use that a place where they’re comfortable to vent.”
Ball added that he appreciated when a social media post becomes a conversation, with members of the public helping provide information gleaned from previous posts or School Board meetings.
“Some of these posts actually begin to resolve themselves by the time the post ends,” Ball said. “It’s an ugly process to a certain degree, because people are upset. But it’s a process I think that is pretty important.”
But sometimes the conversation on social media can cross a line, said Barringer.
“There are things that I guess frustrate me personally on social media that I can’t respond to,” she said. “I guess it is a bit of an affront on social media to repeatedly see or read that board members are inept, are not doing their job, are not committed to the students of this district. I just wanted to take a moment and a break to say it is very frustrating to hear those things in social media.”
Like Wells, Barringer said social media posts aren’t necessarily the best way to get results.
“I would definitely really rather appreciate phone calls or other communications so that we could better respond to individuals, and not through a posting that isn’t just angry and not really productive for our district,” she said.
Ball agreed, adding that building principals are also a good resource for information.
“Reach out to your school administrator,” he said. “They’re always going to be your first best resource. Quite honestly, I will always return a phone call, I will always return a text, I will always return an email. But I’m not going to be your best first resource for most of the issues that you have dealing with the any building level issues.”