Efficient and Effective Legal Representation

The importance of transparency and open meetings in school board decisions

On Behalf of | Apr 2, 2024 | Whistleblowing |

School boards play a critical role in our education system. When school boards operate openly, they build trust with the community and allow the public to participate in the process of making decisions that impact them.

To ensure transparency, open meeting laws require school boards to allow parents, students and others in their community to participate in meetings and access information about the decisions a school board makes. What should you know about school boards and open meetings laws?

What are open meeting laws, and how do these laws protect you?

The decisions of governmental and quasi-governmental bodies can significantly impact your life. Open meeting laws require these bodies to keep their meetings open to the public. These laws apply to a variety of government bodies – including school boards – and may require a variety of actions, including:

  • Providing notice of the meeting and the intended agenda –School boards must provide the public with information about the meetings they will hold, often including the time, location, and agenda. This allows community members to attend meetings about issue that concern them.
  • Allowing the public to participate – The community’s opportunities to weigh in on important matters do not end when they place their vote for a school board member. Open meeting laws often include provisions that allow parents and others in the community to comment on the issues decided by the school board. While the board does not have to make decisions according to what citizens want, public participation can help them make more informed decisions.
  • Keeping records – School boards must maintain detailed minutes of each meeting and make them available to the public. This record should include all decisions made and votes taken. ensures a clear record of the board’s activities and decisions.

As elected officials, school board members represent the interests of the people in their district, and transparency is key to that role. Open meeting laws prevent decisions that affect the public from being made in secret. They also allow you as a citizen to take an active part in these decisions and hold elected officials accountable.

Are there situations where a school board can hold meetings in private?

While most meetings of school boards must be held in public, legal exceptions allow school boards to enter into closed sessions. However, school boards can only hold closed meetings under specific circumstances outlined in Wisconsin state law. These situations include discussing trial-related issues, employment issues or sensitive information like a person’s medical history.

It is important to note that even when a school board holds a closed session, they must provide notice to the public that the meeting will occur and the topics that will be discussed. Some states – including Wisconsin – require this notice to include the reasons for holding the meeting in closed session. This promotes transparency during the decision-making process.

What can parents do if a school board does not obey these laws?

Unfortunately, school boards do not always align with the law. Some may make decisions outside of a meeting, refuse to let members of the public make comment on an issue, fail to provide the public with adequate notice or introduce topics not included on the agenda.

Thankfully, community members can hold school boards accountable for violations of open meetings law. If you believe that a school board violated these important requirements, you can make a complaint about a violation of open meetings law, asking the state to investigate and address the issue. You may also want to reach out to an experienced attorney who can help you better understand your legal options, support your claim and explore whether legal action can help you hold your school board accountable.

Open meetings law is a vital way to ensure transparency in our education system. Knowing your rights and taking action against a violation ensures that the public can participate in the decisions that shape the future of our children’s education.