COVID-19 has brought many unique challenges to charter schools. Utah’s Open and Public Meeting Act (OPMA) sets the standard and expectation that the public’s business must be conducted in public. Even during a pandemic, your charter school board is required by law to follow the OPMA.
We recommend the following practices if you are holding your board meetings electronically:
- Inform the public of what you plan to do. It is critical that you list on your posted agenda how the public can observe your meeting. The public needs to know if they can participate online or if they need to attend in person. Provide a means by which interested persons and the public may remotely hear or observe, live, audio or video transmission, and open portions of the meeting. Notice that the statute says the public must be able to “observe.” To prevent interruption (such as a Zoom “bomb”) from an observer, it is best practice to stream your meeting to a YouTube channel and not allow all participants direct access in the electronic meeting. Follow the State Board of Education and State Charter School Board examples who stream meetings through their YouTube channels. At the very least, you can provide a phone number for the public to listen to the meeting, but mute any observers.
- Inform the public if comments from the public will be accepted during an electronic meeting. If you will be accepting comments from the public, you need to provide a means and notify the public how they may participate remotely.
- Adopt an electronic meeting policy. Each charter school that is conducting board meetings electronically needs to have a policy in place.
Governor Herbert issued an executive order in March 2020, suspending the enforcement of some provisions of the OPMA. The executive order is in force until the termination of the state of emergency declared by Executive Order. A charter school that convenes or conducts an electronic meeting is not required to:
- Post written notice at the principal office of the public body. However, the best practice when educational instruction is occurring on-site is to post the agenda at the school.
- Establish one or more anchor locations for the public meeting.
- Provide space and facilities at an anchor location so that interested persons and the public may physically attend.
While OPMA specifies that meetings are generally open, closed meetings are allowed by law and can be held during the current pandemic. When conducting a closed meeting, it is best to set up a second electronic meeting that the public does not have access to. A charter school board that simply excuses the public from the electronic meeting cannot ensure the security of the closed meeting.
With a little bit of planning, charter schools can continue to meet the requirements of OPMA. Many schools have demonstrated a commitment to openness, accountability and transparency in the charter school community throughout the pandemic. We encourage your board to do the same.
The Utah Association of Public Charter Schools