School Board Retreat Would Violate FOIA Laws

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.  […] [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.

Comments

  1. Gosh – the CDN must be having a too quiet time of it, to have resorted to publishing this bit of inaccurate reporting, with false allegations of illegal meetings.

    I was indeed quoted from an e-mail Aug. 17th where I responded to several construction questions from Ed Leonard, as well as the following one:

    “3. Why is the school board electing to conduct a retreat so far from Clarke County? Why isn’t the meeting being held here?”

    but the conclusion drawn from my response is incorrect. You try to allege that somehow I stated that the meeting would not be open to the public. I never stated that. I indicated that a board “retreat” is NOT the normal public meeting to discuss normal public business, confirming that we would not be conducting any normal public business – which of course we do on a constant basis during our normal SB meetings – held twice monthly, with numerous Special Meetings in between.

    NOWHERE in my e-mail to you will you find any statement that this retreat would be closed to the public.

    Had the CDN bothered to send another e-mail query concerning whether or not the meeting would be open or closed, I would have responded that like all SB meetings, whether retreat or not, the meeting would be open to the public.

    Nor was there any prohibition from our Superintendent attending the meeting as a member of the public during the first half if he so desired; he would join the meeting during the second half as an active participant.

    Such unnecessary slurs and “spin” in reporting – while par for the course in tabloids such as “The Enquirer” – are disappointing when seen in our own local news media.

    By the way, please note that you will not have seen any public notice for such a retreat, given that it has not been confirmed, given scheduling and other difficulties.

    Robina

    CDN Editor: Ms. Bouffault’s email response, quoted in the article, begins: “A retreat is not a public School Board meeting …”

    • Debacle Watcher says:

      Seems as though the School Board Chair’s words are never interpreted properly by anyone! This could be a result of the way she states diametrically opposing facts and opinions, at different moments, and to different audiences. She never seems to let the facts get in the way of being right!

  2. Well then, if it will in fact be open to the public, as all meetings should be, regardless of discussion content, then lets wait and see how public the announcement is when they finally agree on a date.

  3. Like her or not, Robina is the best person for the School Board. At least she is from the last School Board members. I know she is a little rough at times. But at least she is more open. Sometimes her message is only clear to her. I mean she doesn’t spell it out in laymen’s. But she does seem to have the best interest of the school and children in mind with her suggestions and decisions. I think she knows FIOA better then you and I. I don’t think she is hiding things from the public. Sure she needs better social skills. But the trade off for a watchdog is greater. She is defiantly a Go-getter. You don’t have to like her person. Just like her results.
    Okay, go ahead and pummel me. But I do like this Board over the last.