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School Board at odds over closed meeting protocol

Agenda item sparks discord over late arrival to student discipline hearings
The King George School Board cannot agree on whether members should be allowed to enter the meeting room where there is an ongoing closed meeting if they arrive late.
A curious discussion item, “Board Members Arriving Late to Closed Meetings” appeared on last week’s regular meeting agenda, which sparked discord among School Board members.
The agenda item had been requested by School Board member Rick Randall.  
Randall said he asked for it to be on the agenda, so it could be discussed and decided openly.

Randall wanted to discuss and decide about late arrival to closed meetings that take place at special meetings that are usually called for the sole purpose of holding one or more student discipline hearings.
Those student discipline hearings most often take place at the School Board office, even if they are scheduled immediately prior to a regular meeting, which starts at 6 p.m. at the Revercomb Administration Building.
Randall introduced the agenda item saying it is his feeling that if there is a single hearing planned and a member arrives late and they missed some of the closed meeting hearing, that the member should “stay out and not participate.”
He added, “Doesn’t everyone agree?”
Chairman Lynn Pardee said she didn’t.
“No, I think if a School Board member is late, they can come in and sit in the back and listen if they want to,” Pardee said.
Randall responded saying, “Just so we all agree what we are going to do.”
Pardee said she didn’t know if she agreed with others, but she knew what she was going to do.
School Board member Mike Rose suggested, “Just don’t be late.”
Pardee reiterated her reasoning that as members of the School Board if they come in late, they still have a right to sit in and hear about what is going on in the school division.
School Board member Dennis Paulsen disagreed, saying, “I think if you are late and you just want to hear what is going on, you shouldn’t be in there.” He added, “What goes on behind closed doors is none of your business.”
Pardee stated, “I absolutely disagree.”
She provided a different example saying if a member had missed that night’s meeting and the closed meeting for personnel at the end of it, that they had a right to later be briefed on what was said.
Randall disagreed, saying that the absent member did not have the right to be briefed, adding that those in the closed meeting are not allowed to disclose what is said in a closed meeting to anybody.
School Board member Renee Parker said she also wanted to comment on the issue, saying she had a different concern.  
Parker said that when a School Board member comes late into a closed session, it’s a distraction to the student and to the parents of the student.
She said, “People wonder why and who they are.” She also said it was a distraction to the other School Board members participating in the hearing.  “That’s my concern,” Parker said.

WHAT’S PROPER BEHAVIOR? WHAT’S LEGAL?     
The issue was dropped with no agreement as to what will take place moving forward if Pardee or other members decide to come in late to closed meetings for discipline hearings.
Most of the comments expressed were personal opinions, though there are certainly some legal issues for the elected board to consider.
The fact is that a quorum of the School Board is required to transact business. That means that only three members must be present at a properly noticed meeting in order to vote on matters.

DUE PROCESS    
The most important legal issue to consider may be whether the School Board could get it itself into legal hot water and embroiled in another lawsuit over lack of due process as it did two years ago.  
That might happen if any late-arriving members voted on an action regarding disciplining a student when they hadn’t heard all the facts, despite the fact that most of those votes are unanimous.

CERTIFICATION OF CLOSED SESSION     
Another issue to bear in mind is the required legal certification that must immediately follow a closed meeting session.
State law requires all members to individually certify that only the public business matters that were identified in the motion convening the closed session were heard, discussed or considered.
Any departure from that by a member must be recorded in the minutes.
That means a late-arriving School Board member would be legally bound to make a statement specifying to the certification only for the portion of the closed meeting for which he or she was present and that statement must be recorded in the minutes of the public body.

MINUTES    
The law does not appear to specify how the minutes are to address late arrivals or early leave-takings of members during a meeting.
The law addresses that by stating, “Minutes shall be in writing and shall include (i) the date, time, and location of the meeting; (ii) the members of the public body recorded as present and absent; and (iii) a summary of the discussion on matters proposed, deliberated or decided, and a record of any votes taken.”
The minutes of most public bodies address comings and goings of members by recording the time a person comes in and/or leaves.
But since the discussion that takes place during a closed meeting is exempt from public disclosure and from being recorded in minutes, most public bodies don’t have those meeting portions written up in the minutes.
For that reason, whether a member has come in late during closed session might be ignored and not addressed in meeting minutes.

LATER BRIEFINGS    
The law appears to allow for members who miss a closed session to be briefed on what took place, as in Pardee’s example about personnel issues.   
After all, discussions during closed sessions are exempt from public disclosure.  
And the law allows for members to contact each other one-on-one and discuss public business matters.

Phyllis Cook
Staff reporter

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