Laws and compliance for school boards relate to the various meeting requirements and regulations associated with public board meetings and procedures, and the policies and frameworks school boards put in place to maintain compliance with them. Open meeting laws, also referred to as Sunshine Laws, dictate that the business of the board should be conducted “in the sunshine” or in the open, and clearly accessible to the public so they may attend. However, the right to attend school board meetings does not include the right to participate or comment. Though each state has different guidelines for school board laws and compliance, at the federal level open meeting laws culminate in the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Regardless of how each state chooses to approach Sunshine Laws, the major purpose is to ensure that citizens know how and when decisions are made on their behalf.
In order to best approach laws and compliance, school boards must keep in mind all the requirements that align with the laws they are bound to, and apply smart practices to meet those requirements effectively and consistently. These practices most often include posting agendas and minutes on a public-facing website, making meeting attachments searchable, ensuring accessibility to handicapped constituents to meeting agendas, attachments and minutes, banning texting and personal emails concerning board business, and posting videos of meeting proceedings. In keeping with the procedures outlined by open meeting laws, school boards will also want to consider strong safeguards against cybercriminals. Putting a cyber risk framework in place that successfully combats any impending cyber threats keeps school boards one step ahead of cybercriminals looking to capitalize on typically unsuspecting public boards.
School boards in California are subject to a law called the Brown Act. Originally enacted in 1953 and amended in 2019, the Brown Act was born from public concern over informal, undisclosed meetings of local elected officials. The law was then enacted in an effort to protect the public’s right to attend and participate in meetings by local governing bodies. In order to comply with the Brown Act, Californian school boards must ensure that their meetings are open in clearly specified ways, involving how boards communicate with the public and each other as well as how meetings are generally structured.
When evaluating laws and compliance and considering how to conduct meetings in accordance with all applicable requirements and regulations, school boards in California must fully understand the indications of the Brown Act and adjust their methods appropriately to comply with the new 2019 amendment. This amendment now allows local boards of directors to give “effective notice” of upcoming meetings online if they operate out of running, usable websites. However, school boards must be extremely careful about the digital tools they leverage, ensuring that meeting-related documents and attachments are searchable, reusable, free, easy to read and intuitive in terms of accessibility.
Complying with all relevant laws and requirements is not an easy thing to maintain, and board members slip up all the time simply because they are either unaware of the specificities of a law or they make a mistake that they can’t undo. With open meeting laws, there can be much confusion over what constitutes a “secret meeting” and exactly what modes of communication are permitted between board members in addition to the subject matter they’re allowed to speak to each other about. Sometimes a knee jerk reaction when a school board member has an idea or wants to make an update to a board document is to send a quick text or personal email to one or several other board members. Under open meeting laws, doing any of this is a direct violation and can cause a lot of issues for the school board, damaging public trust and thus civic engagement. Leveraging the right board management software to manage all of these moving parts is necessary to ensuring consistent compliance with all laws. With the right digital tools, school boards can collaborate securely while also maintaining public access to needed documents and information.
As most of the laws surrounding public boards relate to how meetings are conducted among both board members and received among the public, it is inevitable that laws and compliance practices will impact meeting management. As school boards work to improve meeting workflows and bring efficiency to their board work, it is critical to keep in mind open meeting laws and to shape meeting management strategies around those requirements. A board member should always be acting with the public’s best interest in mind, and establishing meeting management processes that hold school board members accountable for compliance is an effective way to avoid open meeting violations and ensure efficient, productive meetings every time.