Working in Public Meetings

School board meetings are governed by the Open Meetings Law (part of the Colorado Sunshine Law).

A public meeting is any gathering of three or more members of a board at which any public business is discussed or at which any formal action may be taken, regardless of whether the meeting occurs by telephone, electronically or in person. These public meetings are open to the public at all times. Chance meetings or social gatherings at which discussion of public business is not the central purpose are not considered public meetings.


 

Notification of Board Meetings

Boards meet after providing full and timely notice to the public, which involves posting information regarding the meeting and its agenda at the board’s designated posting place in the district at least 24 hours before the meeting begins. Publicizing meetings in this way meets the requirements of law for those meetings the board schedules as part of its annual calendar, called “regular meetings.”
Other board meetings are scheduled as needed throughout the school year. These are called “special meetings,” and they have additional notice requirements, including providing a statement of the purpose for the special meeting as well as providing individual notice to each board member.
Some boards also meet during “work sessions,” which can either be regular meetings of the board or special meetings, depending on how they are scheduled. Work sessions are opportunities for local boards to learn about particular issues, the established Colorado practice is for boards not to vote during these meetings.
In a less formal sense, boards “meet” in social settings, at community events or at educational trainings like CASB’s Annual Convention. So long as boards do not use these gatherings to discuss public business or take formal action, the law does not impose its transparency requirements on these gatherings. Some boards, out of an abundance of caution, notify the public of events where three or more board members are scheduled to attend.

Boards have Flexibility on Meetings

School board meetings can be very formal or informal, depending on local custom. Generally, boards use Robert’s Rules of Order to maintain a common understanding of board process. Board presidents lead board meetings, following the board’s agenda, which is normally prepared by the board president in cooperation with the superintendent.
A board may amend its agenda in accordance with board policy, usually a majority vote of board members present during regular meetings. To amend the agenda for a special meeting, all members must be present and vote to amend. While boards possess the authority to modify the agenda, they should exercise the authority with caution. Boards have a legal duty to provide agenda information in advance of the meeting where possible. A drastic departure from the stated agenda that results in sudden board action on a matter of great importance is likely to draw sharp criticism from the public and may spark costly litigation.

Public Participation in Board Meetings

Some school board meetings are open to the public. Most boards permit public comment periods during those meetings. Maintaining order and a professional environment ensures the public is respectfully heard and protects the board’s ability to efficiently accomplish the public’s business. To assure compliance with constitutional rights, boards should adopt and follow policy, such as CASB’s sample policy, Public Participation at School Board Meetings (BEDH).

Executive Session

A board can meet in executive session, away from the public, in limited circumstances established by law. Even then, most of those conversations must be recorded. The law only provides eight purposes for convening an “executive session” or a private discussion of the board. Moreover, the law articulates very particular procedures the board must follow to enter executive session. These limitations and restrictions do not imply that executive session is frowned upon; in fact, used appropriately, these private discussions are vital to a board’s work. Knowing the parameters of executive session is essential for boards to meet the substantive and procedural requirements of the law.

Steps to Convene in Executive Session

  1. The Board president announces the topic of the executive session and the specific citation to the statute authorizing the board to meet in executive session.
  2. The Board president identifies the particular matter to be discussed in as much detail as possible without compromising the purpose for which the executive session is authorized. In crafting this announcement, the board president may factor in how much the public already knows about the particular matter and provide additional detail when describing the topic to be discussed consistent with this public knowledge. This information should be incorporated into a board motion to convene an executive session. The following is a sample motion: I move that the board of education convene into executive session to discuss/review _____________________ pursuant to C.R.S. § 24-6-402___ [see list of permissible topics on page 9 for the precise statutory reference].
  3. The board votes whether to convene in executive session. Upon the affirmative vote of two-thirds of the quorum present, the board then goes into executive session.
  4. The board may determine which individuals will be invited to join members of the board in executive session. The discussion during executive session cannot stray from the matter(s) stated at the onset of the executive session.
  5. The board is not allowed to adopt any proposed policy, resolution, regulation or take any formal action in an executive session. If the board wishes to confer with its attorney during an executive session and it did not specifically announce its intent to do so prior to convening the executive session, the board should return to public session, make an additional topic announcement citing the statutory authority for conferring with its attorney, and vote on whether to convene in executive session for this purpose.
  6. The board must maintain a log of the amount of time spent on each topic during executive session and include the log in the minutes for that session.

Eight Purposes for Executive Sessions

  1. The purchase, acquisition, lease, transfer or sale of any real, personal or other property interest. [C.R.S. § 24-6-402(4)(a).] However, no executive session shall be held to conceal the fact that a member of the local public body has a personal interest in such property transaction.
  2. Conferences with an attorney for the purpose of receiving legal advice on specific legal questions. [C.R.S. § 24-6-402(4) (b).] The mere presence or participation of an attorney at an executive session is not sufficient to satisfy this requirement.
  3. Matters required to be kept confidential by federal or state law or rules and regulations. [C.R.S. § 24-6- 402(4)(c).] The board must announce the specific citation of the statute or rules that are the basis for such confidentiality before holding the executive session.
  4. Specialized details of security arrangements or investigations. [C.R.S. § 24-6-402(4)(d).]
  5. Determining positions relative to matters that may be subject to negotiations, developing strategy for negotiations and instructing negotiators, except that discussion of negotiations relating to collective bargaining or employment contracts shall occur in a public meeting, unless an executive session is otherwise allowed. [C.R.S. § 24-6-402(4)(e).]
  6. Personnel matters, except if the employee who is the subject of the session has requested an open meeting. [C.R.S. § 24-6-402(4)(f).] If the personnel matter involves more than one employee, all of the employees have to request an open meeting for the board to conduct the discussion in public. Discussion of personnel policies that do not require discussion of matters specific to a particular employee are not considered “personnel matters.” Discussions concerning a member of the board, any elected official or the appointment of a board member are not considered personnel matters.
  7. Consideration of any documents protected under the mandatory nondisclosure provision of the Open Records Act, except that consideration of work product documents and documents subject to the governmental or deliberative process privilege must occur in a public meeting, unless an executive session is otherwise allowed. [C.R.S. § 24-6-402(4)(g).]
  8. Discussion of individual students where public disclosure would adversely affect the person or persons involved. [C.R.S. § 24-6-402(4)(h).]