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School Board to discuss rules for ‘special meetings’

The King George School Board will take another look at wording contained in School Board policy BDB-Special School Board Meetings. That is expected to take place next week at its regular meeting scheduled for Jan. 28.
Some minor wording changes to that policy were on the agenda at last week’s meeting on Jan. 14, which spawned the discussion.  

Under state law, ‘special meetings’ are basically defined as ‘called’ meetings that are not set at a public body’s organizational meeting at the beginning of each calendar year.

Virginia Code, § 22.1-72, addresses school boards calling special meetings very simply. It states, “A school board may also hold special meetings when necessary. Each school board shall fix its own procedure for calling and holding any special meeting.”

The King George School Board’s existing policy on special meetings states, “The School Board may hold special meetings when necessary. These meetings shall be held when called by the chairman or when requested by two or more members. Special meetings may be called provided each member is duly notified. Notice, reasonable under the circumstances, shall be given contemporaneously with the notice provided to the public and the members of the School Board.

“Business that does not come within the purposes set forth in the call of the meeting shall not be transacted at any special meeting of the School Board unless the quorum present is in unanimous agreement to consider additional items of business.”

The final sentence is unique to this board, and was inserted several years ago, when there was a desire by members to attempt to keep items from being added to special meetings that are called for the sole purpose of holding student discipline hearings, which largely take place in a closed-door meeting session, exempt from open meeting requirements due to the privacy of students.

It was expected to keep the chairman or another member from adding things to the agenda of discipline hearings that absent members had no knowledge of appearing on the agenda.  

STUDENT DISCIPLINE HEARINGS
Discipline hearings are special meetings that rise to the level of the school board and are often required to take place within 10 days of the incident where a student is cited for a violation of the code of conduct.

The problem arises because getting a quorum of three or more members together for such a hearing is sometimes problematical, due to members’ personal and work schedules.

Getting all five together within the required time frame required for student ‘due process’ may be impossible and often discipline hearings are called when only three members confirm they will attend.

Likewise, members of the press rarely attend special meetings called for discipline hearings, because they take place behind closed doors and also are subject to privacy considerations.

That can mean that if other things can be added to the agenda, unbeknownst to the press and one or two school board members, there is a significant lack of transparency.

School Board member Rick Randall indicated he didn’t even want special meetings to be called with only two members having that ability.

Randall said, “I’m just uncomfortable that a non-quorum can call the meeting, as long as one other person can show up there. If they do it at a time when they realize it would be inconvenient for a majority of the board to show up, they can pretty much call a meeting and ram their schedule through just by clever timing.”  He added that all they need is one other member to be there.

School Board member Ken Novell said he did not disagree with Randall, but also expressed a concern that items can be added to the agenda during the special meeting with fewer than the full board present.

Novell said, “My problem is that if you have three, one person can add a subject to the meeting without the others even knowing prior to the meeting. And I think that’s wrong.”

Chairman John Davis insisted that the chairman has control of the agenda, and added that it would have to be voted on during the meeting to add to the agenda.

Novell said, “The meeting only takes three people and the other two people who aren’t there don’t even know about it (a change to the agenda).”

Davis asked, “Why aren’t they there?”

Novell responded, “They’re sick, they’re on other school business, But my point is that we don’t consider subjects unless everybody knows about it.” He added, “Everybody must know about the subject.”

School Board member Mike Rose said he wanted to check Roberts Rules of Order and added that the Virginia School Boards Association must be recommending the change because of a change in state law.
To be continued…

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