A School Board “retreat” that has been in the planning stages since May, 2010 appears to be in jeopardy according to school sources. Specific reasons for why the retreat, which was schedule for next week, will be allowed to die Tuesday night were not given.
The meeting, to be held approximately 60 miles west of Clarke County next week, is intended to allow school board members to develop their vision for Clarke County Public Schools without public oversight and will be facilitated by an independent education professional.
Although the meeting is to be attended by all five school board members to chart the future of Clarke County Public Schools, School Board Chairman Robina Bouffault says that the meeting is not open to the public. She has also said that Superintendent Dr. Michael Murphy will not be allowed to attend the first half of the meeting.
“A retreat is not a public School Board meeting held for the board to enact public business which is done during our regular meetings.” Bouffault said in an electronic mail message to the Clarke Daily News. “It is an opportunity to meet together away from normal daily interference and demands, in a quiet location where the board members can focus on and discuss at length their various ideas about where the school division should be headed – without interruptions or distractions, in a calm and quiet atmosphere. This is the meaning of the word used: “retreat”, and not “meeting”. No normal public business will be conducted or voted on.”
However, according to the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council such a “retreat” would violate Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
“FOIA does not have a meeting exemption for retreats of any public body. It is a “meeting” under FOIA where the entire body or three or more of the body gathers, whether formally or informally, to discuss or transact the public business” said Maria Everett, Executive Director of the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council. “A meeting triggers where there is discussion of the public business of the body. The Clarke County School Board is incorrect in its understanding that transaction of the public business must occur. [â€¦] [P]ublic business will be discussed. Adding that to the number of members present (more than three), it is a meeting under FOIA, which requires notice, open to the public, and minutes.
The Clarke County School Board received a FOIA training session from Ms. Everett in May, 2010.