PAC Determines School Board’s Closed Session Did Not Violate OMA
On April 12, the Public Access Counselor (“PAC”) issued a determination finding that a School District did not violate the Open Meetings Act (“OMA”) by holding a closed session to discuss the actions and interactions with an individual board member, including her use of social media, in the context of the Board’s self-evaluation.
The case centered around whether the School District correctly used the “self-evaluation” exception in section 2(c)(16) of the OMA to hold a closed meeting with members of the Illinois Association of School Boards (“IASB”) in order to discuss board member interrelationships, including the use of social media. The “self-evaluation” exception permits a public body to enter closed session to discuss “self-evaluation, practices, and procedures or professional ethics when meeting with a representative of a statewide association of which the public body is a member.” The Claimant, a School Board member, alleged that the Board’s use of the “self-evaluation” did not cover discussions the Board held about specific Board members and use by the Board member of social media.
After reviewing the transcript of the closed session, the PAC found that the closed session did not violate the “self-evaluation” exception. The PAC did agree with the Claimant that, at times, the Board discussed internal interactions. However, the PAC found that those comments were made “in the context of the Board discussing its practices and procedures and how to improve certain practices.” Finally, the PAC noted that the discussion was facilitated by representatives of the IASB and, as such, was conducted in compliance with the requirements of the exception.
This determination provides beneficial guidance to school districts and other public bodies regarding the use of the “self-evaluation” exception of the OMA and how disputes under this exception will be analyzed. School boards who use this exception should be sure to discuss only those topics which the exception expressly permits and to include a member of a statewide association to facilitate any such conversation. During these discussions, boards are permitted to discuss individual board member interaction with the board, employees, and the community so long as the discussion remains with the greater context of the self-evaluation of the board.