Sunday, August 29, 2010

Follow-Up to 5095 Web Publishing Policy

Recently, in your back to school mailing that has information from the district and PTA, was included the form (link to form here*)to fill out regarding our changing the Wed Publishing Policy 5095 from an "opt-in" to an "opt-out". (See this post for details.)

I strongly suggest that you read this mailing carefully. I have chosen to "opt-out" by checking the second option. This is the option that will give you back your rights to control your child's privacy.

Read the paragraph just above where you fill in your child's name. Know that what is not written in that paragraph is that if you do not return the form by September 17th, the district, as per paragraph one of the form, WILL ASSUME that you DO give permission to print your child's picture anywhere on the web as long as the picture or the work is not identified by name. If you do not want the district to have that right, you need to proactively "opt-out" by checking the second choice.

* Careful, clicking the link will force open a pdf file either in your browser or in a separate Adobe Reader window.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Web Publishing Policy 5095

(Usual disclaimers. I speak for myself, not the entire School Board. Your mileage may vary, etc.)

At the School Board's August 10th regular meeting, by a 3-2 vote, the Board approved changes to its Web Publishing Policy 5095. (Benton, Kiesel and Bresner for, Mester and Katchis opposed.) This is not simply a wonkish change to an obscure policy. This change has significant implications on student privacy rights. Before I elaborate on my reasons for voting "no", it is important to note that in my four years on the School Board, this is the first time I can recall there being a 3-2 vote. While there have been several 4-1 votes, rarely is the Board this split on an issue.

First let me outline the issue as I see it. In its simplest terms it is "opt-in" versus "opt-out". One of these methods is the default that to change requires proactive action. An example of this would be when you sign up for a website, they will send you "special offer" emails until you "opt-out". You must proactively tell them to stop. Or, they send you no emails until you proactively "opt-in" or ask for emails.

But not every case is that simple. In the case of the school board the issue is not emails, but privacy. More accurately, student privacy and who has the rights to use that student's image and classroom work product. What is the District's (Board's) policy about publishing student photos, class room work product, video and artwork? Up until last night, the policy was opt-in. In order for us to use a student's image or work, even without a name, we had to have that student's parents permission.

Last night we went to a two-tiered system. We will remain opt-in for the cases where we want to use full first and last names on a district wide website, and first name and first initial of last name in a password protected classroom website. We will now be opt-out if we want to use without names or identifiers a student's pictures, videos, artwork or even classwork. That is, we assume the right to use those unless you tell us otherwise. As long as we don't use a name or identify the student we can use that work anyway we see fit on the web.

This is the new section of the policy:

Examples of student work which does not identify the student (such as artwork, written work or verbal statements) may be published on the web unless a parent/guardian or eligible student indicates in writing that they do not consent.


Photos and videos of students without names may be published on the District or school websites unless parent/guardian or eligible student refuses permission in writing...

So why did I vigorously oppose this change and vote no? First let me start with the assumption that once published on the web, it is in the public domain forever. Just as you cannot unring a bell, it has been shown that once published on the web, with caching and mirror sites and people simply copying and pasting whatever we put up will live on somewhere on the web.

By making it opt-out rather than opt-in by default, we are making the decision to potentially post items on the web without informed consent*. If a parent does not check off a box and return a form sent prior to the school year, that parent is essentially agreeing to let us use their child's likeness and work product as we see fit (without names or identifying information).

One example of the type of potential item we can post is a child's classroom work. We could now, for example, redact a student's name from a test and publish that test on the web as an example of good or bad work. We can film a student in a classroom as they work to learn some skill and publish that on YouTube as long as we don't identify that student and that student's guardian has not opted-out. We could take a elementary school book report and publish that with name redacted. Previously, before we would post something like that on the web we would have to ask for permission from the student's parent or guardian.

This policy has changed the rules from, we ask before we publish to we publish unless you proactively returned a form at the beginning of the year and told us not to. In fairness, presumably you may opt out at any time.

Why did we make the change? The answer I have received to that question is because it is easier for us to be able to post pictures and such on the web. As told to me at an earlier public meeting, previously we had to get permission from everyone in a picture before we published and that was time consuming and difficult. Parents would not respond. I do not in any way doubt that to be true; it is time consuming and difficult. Parents have so many other things to worry about that maybe this is not a priority to respond.

With this change, we do not need the permission, we presume to have it. Why do we need to publish student pictures and classroom work on the web? For learning purposes. To be able to demonstrate certain teaching techniques and methods of evaluation and learning. We would love to be able to post examples of student writing. And/or, for marketing purposes. To show what great work we do in the schools.

One of the operational flaws in this change is that it will not significantly reduce the workload. For example, prior to publishing a work of a photo someone still must identify all those in the picture or the work's author and check a database to see if that person opted-out. We will not have to wait for permission now for those that did not opt out. Contacting the parents to ask permission will be the only time and effort saving area.

While I am very proud of the work we do in our schools, I do not think our desire to toot our horn should trump a student's right to privacy. I certainly do not think that we should make this change for our expediency. We have made it opt-out so that we can more easily use student's pictures and work for our benefit. Efficiency over privacy and ownership.

There is no doubt that we as a district are hampered in our efforts to get the word out to the community of all the terrific work being done in our schools. Our teachers and administrators are doing great work in the schools!! I would love to be able to show the district's residents they are "getting their monies worth" for their tax dollars; they are. But not at the cost of privacy rights.

I believe that as a default you own your right to privacy and you own your image and work product. We should have to ask for your permission to waive that right. Name or no name. I do not think that we (the District) should take that inherent right and presume it to be ours unless or until you proactively take it back.

I am opting-out.


*This is not meant as a legal term if there is such a legal term. I am quite confident that the new policy as well as the old is legal and appropriate and within FERPA regulations. That is not the issue.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


I recently had someone attempt to post an anonymous comment. While the comment in and of itself was certainly not provocative, it was not consistent with my stated policy of no anonymous comments.

In the "Welcome" post I state my policy with respect to comments to this blog. First, I will be honest in saying I reserve the right to post or reject any comment for any reason. My blog, my prerogative. Second, I will not ever publish an anonymous comment. I put my name out there on the line and so should you. If you are not willing to state it publicly, then I have a hard time accepting it as legitimate. Third, my standards for publishing are accuracy, civility and relevancy. I recognize these rules and criteria may be stricter than you wish or think appropriate. With all due respect, feel free to start your own blog or post your comments in one of the other town blogs such as The Patch or NewCastleNOW.

This is all new to me so I reserve the right to change the entire process as well. I am also considering having any comments only made through email and I will then post those comments (and responses if appropriate) as inline blog posts. Sort of a mailbag feature.

If you wish to ask a question directly or to comment, feel free to email me at I do not guarantee a response, but time and desire permitting I will do the best I can.

Having said all that, the anonymous commenter asked how to view a video of the proceedings or get a transcript. I do not know the answer to that. I do know that News 12 appeared to be taping the meeting and at least one very public private citizen did as well. I strongly suspect it will be posted to YouTube at some point soon and linked to by a local blog other than this. I do not know if the Town typically makes transcripts available, but the microphones on the table were for the tape recorder that I believe is used by a Town stenographer. The commenter also asked why the Town and School boards were surprised by the turnout. I cannot speak for the entire school board, but I was surprised because we are not the lead agency and have not experienced the passionate reactions to this project. At school board meetings - even contentious ones such as the budget - we rarely get a crowd over 45 or 50. Typically there are 7 or 8 people there most of whom have to be there anyway. Also, it is important to note that the board in our electronic blast of July 29th and I here on this blog strongly suggested that the public turnout to voice its concerns, comments or compliments, but we do not know who is listening.

Because the meeting was held in Town Hall, the School Board had no control over the recording issue. I cannot speak for the Town, but it is my understanding that the Town, as a matter of course, does not typically record or broadcast work sessions. This was a work session. It is also my impression that the Town established a date in September for public comment and expected to have the big turnout then. Typically in August all meetings are sparsely attended and it was felt that rather than shut anyone out who was on vacation, the Town would schedule an evening in September to hear public comment. Those are not unreasonable assumptions.

The commenter also seemed to imply that there was something to be read into the reasons for moving the meeting after the initial reluctance. Regardless of the reason why, Barbara Gerrard chose to do the right thing and move the meeting into the largest space available. Why question her motives?

Response to Developer Spokesman Claim

I do not speak for the District or the School Board. I am speaking from my own recollections.

In an article in the Patch today, spokesman for the developer Geoff Thompson said, "...that the school board has only met with them one (sic) in the past few years, and that they have made unsuccessful attempts to talk with them."

As School Board President from the time of our submission to the DEIS in September of 2009 thru the end of my term in 2010, I was never contacted by Mr. Thompson or any representatives of the developer. If a request to meet with the School Board was made in July or August of this year, I was not made aware of that request. To the best of my knowledge, since July 1st of this year, no attempt was made to give the School Board a look at any draft new proposal nor did we have the opportunity to comment to the developer (or Town) in advance of this joint session. And, in fact, the School Board did meet with the developer early in the process (I would need to look back at old agendas to get the specific date) which I believe is the one time to which he refers. Edit: The developer did ask to meet with the School Board in the summer of 2009. We felt after being ignored previously that additional meetings were unnecessary.

Quite frankly, I am not sure what a meeting would accomplish. Was Mr. Thompson implying that in a meeting, if we had only told them of our concerns, they would have addressed them? If so, the developer can certainly proactively choose to implement any one of my 4 suggestions at any time.



August 10 Town-School Board Joint Work Session Thoughts

(The usual disclaimers apply. This is my opinion. I do not speak for the entire School Board. Your mileage may vary, etc.)

First up was the joint Town-School Boards work session. I arrived at 7:01 and boy did I miss the early fireworks. Quite frankly, I was surprised at the turnout and it was apparent so was the Town Board. Give credit to Supervisor Gerrard who after an initial hesitation due to time and procedural concerns, made the appropriate executive decision to move the meeting to the larger auditorium, although that space too proved to be too small. I only wish there was time for the official video recording equipment to be turned on and used.

Thank you to all the residents who showed up to voice their opinions. As a School Board member I can tell you that I put the most weight on opinions from people who are willing to show up in person, in public, and voice their opinion. Although there was no time for public comment tonight at the work session, the very number of people who took the time to come watch and insist on being able to see a public meeting was impressive and speaks for itself. I obviously was unable to remain for the balance of the Town meeting, but I am sure I will get to read an account of it in the media. Or watch it on NCCTV.

In the event you were not at the joint session, I thought the meeting was productive for three reasons. One, I was able to learn more about the latest proposal and to understand much more about the process and the Town's issues. The Town's consultant methodically and meticulously walked the School Board through the history of the project leading up to the latest proposal as well as detailing the latest proposal including relevant to the CCSD numbers and facts.

Two, I was able to voice the issues and concerns I made in my previous post. Namely that the risk of the revenues not exceeding the expenses of new students (in the development itself or in houses vacated in town as a result of the development) should be borne by the developer not the district taxpayers. Also that the projected declining enrollment of the district is an asset of the district in the form of lower costs to the taxpayers and should not be given away or traded off by anyone other than the BoE or the district taxpayers themselves.

I offered 4 solutions (I added one to the list in previous post) They were to tax all residential development as fee simple, to do a town wide revaluation and invoke the Homestead Act, not approve any change in the residential zoning, or to require the developer to post a bond in escrow that would be used to offset any additional expenses above tax revenues by the district. It is also important to recognize that the CCSD taxpayer may be better off losing the current taxes paid rather than taking a larger loss if the new additional taxes do not support the new students. The lesser of two evils.

Three, I think that the Town Board genuinely wanted to hear our concerns and will take them into serious consideration. Although most of what we said was already said in the DEIS submission of the School Board and other earlier submissions or at earlier meetings, we were able to reiterate the importance of our issues. I also want to believe that the Town Board respects and appreciates the turnout as a statement itself.

I also asked what the Town stood to gain from approving the project. You will need to view a videotape of the meeting or read a transcript to be able to get the answer. Most of the response was a discussion of the legal issues (which are a legitimate genuine concern). I am unable to simply list the benefits as they were not presented to us in that form. Quite frankly, I am not sure I understood what they were if there were any above the 6.5 acres of land that the Town would have to pay to improve.

(Gregg Bresner, Alyson Kiesel and Randy Katchis also voiced their significant concerns. It is not my place to detail them here, but they either reiterated or expanded upon my comments. None were in opposition to my comments. I had the benefit(?) of going first after Janet Benton as President or I would have been echoing theirs.)

The School Board then moved to the High School to have its regularly scheduled meeting. That meeting had some serious issues discussed too. I will make a separate post on the issues from that meeting.

Relevant to this post, at the regular School Board meeting we spoke about the next steps as a School Board to take with respect to giving the Town more information and a submission to the FEIS. I will go into more detail in a later post, but there was general agreement to consider engaging an expert to help with projections specific to Chappaqua and this market as well as to write a submission to the FEIS. In that submission we expect to use data from the expert, to reiterate what we said tonight and to add other data and information as requested by the Town.

I strongly suggest that our submission to the DEIS be re-examined as it is clear in its concerns.



Monday, August 9, 2010

Joint NC Town Board CCSD School Board Work Session Pre-Meeting Thoughts

Friends, neighbors and community members:

I am writing as an individual Chappaqua Central School District Board (BoE) member; I do not speak for the entire School Board. I don't speak for anyone but myself.

On Tuesday August 10th, the New Castle Town Board and Chappaqua Central School District Board of Education are having a joint work session. The purpose of the session is for the Town Board to present to the School Board the latest proposal by the developer of the former Reader’s Digest property. I expect that New Castle’s consultants will present the facts that are relevant to the CCSD.

I am posting this prior to the meeting because I found out that there will be no recording of the meeting, no live broadcast, no time for audience questions and it will be in the smaller conference room next to the main room at Town Hall. Because the meeting is at Town Hall, the BoE has no ability to tape the meeting. If you want to see the meeting, but not participate, come to Town Hall on Tuesday August 10th at 7:00pm. Because the meeting will not be broadcast or taped, I am posting my pre-meeting thoughts now. Of course, I will reserve judgment until I hear the presentation. There is certainly a chance that my concerns are addressed proactively by the Town at the meeting.

First, I want to clear up a few misconceptions. I have communicated with many residents in the last few weeks about the former Reader’s Digest Property. I as a Board member and fiduciary will vigorously make our concerns known just as you should too. Quite frankly, the only proper forum to voice your opinions on this matter is to the lead agency, the Town Board themselves. It is where I expect to voice my concerns too.

Let me be clear on that. Many of the people with whom I spoke suggested that the School Board “do something about the project”. The School Board cannot approve of the proposal, turn down the proposal or alter the proposal in any way. The Town Board is the lead agency on this. They and they alone will make this decision. The School Board can only voice its support or concerns to the Town Board just as any citizen or group can and should.

I have been asked what took the BoE so long to send out it recent memo outlining its concerns. Our recent statement on July 29th was not breaking new ground. It was a reiteration of our public comment to the DEIS. I was in favor of making the statement because it was clear that our response to the DEIS was either being discounted or misinterpreted even with the latest proposal.

Our submission to the DEIS makes very clear in both the last paragraph of introductory letter, in the conclusion as well as in the body of the submission that the BoE had significant concerns with the tax basis of the proposals. That has not changed with the latest proposal by the developer as far as I can tell prior to this joint work session.

I think it unfair to present problems without offering solutions. Although it is not the School Board’s charge to provide solutions I intend to propose three possible ways to keep the risk with the developer and not put the risk of a shortfall in tax revenues versus additional costs on the CCSD taxpayers.

One solution is to require that all the units be taxed fee simple. I do not know if that can be done legally unless all dwellings are single family homes. Another is to do a town-wide revaluation which could serve the purpose of putting all properties with equal value whether they are single family homes or condominiums on par with each other for tax purposes. The third way is to simply deny the part of the zoning change that requests residential development.

Finally, I plan on discussing the use and proper interpretation of the BOCES data. BOCES made projections on enrollment for the district assuming there was no development of the property as well as under the various scenarios of development known at the time of the DEIS. The district wide projections showed declining enrollment.

Declining enrollment, assuming most of the district’s costs are variable, is a benefit that should accrue to district taxpayers. It is an asset of the district taxpayers that should not be transferred to the developer by anyone other than the School Board. I happen to believe that government savings or in this case the CCSD savings should be returned to the taxpayer not transferred to the developer or spent by the school board. Regardless of your opinion on that, it is the BoE and the district’s taxpayers who should decide the budget and proper spending for the district.

I will also be pointing out that the BOCES projections for the student enrollment at the development were based on state-wide averages that did not in any way account for historical data here in Chappaqua or even in Westchester. It included the entire state. Real life experience has shown that in Chappaqua condominiums as much as three times as many children live in the units as the BOCES projections assume. That is a number that is too large to ignore.

All my concerns about this development as a School Board member have the same solution. To me, as a district and district taxpayer fiduciary, I have no opinion on the proper number of additional students either in the development itself or those who move into homes vacated by current residents who move there; we will educate them all and do it well.

My concern is for the district taxpayer and not shifting the risk of potential additional costs above new tax revenue from the developer to the current taxpayers. Simply focusing on the town of New Castle’s taxpayer effects without considering the effects on the district’s taxes is deficient. The equitable solution is to tax the units so that they pay the same taxes as single family homes of the same monetary value.

Jeffrey Mester



As a CCSD School Board member, I am frequently contacted by district residents with questions, comments, concerns, support and requests. While some of these contact points are very individual and specific to that person, most are not. Most are concerns, questions and comments that many of you share.

With this blog, I hope to create a sort of FAQ of my (NOT the entire Board's) position, point of view, response, etc. I have no regular timetable for posting. I welcome your feedback and comments. I plan to moderate any comments you wish to post here. As editor, I will have final say on all decisions. My standards are accuracy, civility and relevancy. I also require a real name. That is, no anonymous comments

You may also wish to send comments directly to me at or leave a voice mail for me using the below link.

Also on Twitter: @JSMCCSDBoE