Virtual Training and the Open Meetings Act
The OSBA Capital Conference and Trade Show is the place to gather knowledge, connect with your colleagues and meet with representatives from emerging companies and organizations. We encourage you to ask questions, network with your peers, and talk with vendors about products and services that can help you keep pace with the ever-changing landscape of Ohio’s public schools. However, as you foster relationships with others passionate about public education, we encourage you to be mindful of Ohio’s Open Meetings Act and the restraints it imposes on school board members.
Ohio’s Open Meetings Act provides that all meetings of any public body must be open to the public at all times. The term “meeting” means “any prearranged discussion of the public business of the public body by a majority of its members.” Nothing in the Open Meetings Act requires that a “meeting” occur face-to-face. The Ohio Supreme Court has held that the Open Meetings Act prohibits any private prearranged discussion of public business by a majority of the members of a public body, regardless of whether the discussion occurs face-to-face, telephonically, by video conference or electronically by email, text, tweet or other form of communication.
There are several options for board members to fully engage in the virtual conference without running afoul of the Open Meetings Act. Consider:
- Watching virtual training alone or participating in presentations in numbers less than a quorum. Ideally, board members will be aware of whether others on the board are also accessing the training or presentation. You may even want to plan ahead and discuss which board members will attend each session. Making sure that the number of board members attending each session is under the number needed for a quorum is a good way to avoid the possibility of Open Meetings Act issues.
- Attending presentations and events as a board where you passively receive information. A quorum of the board may virtually attend the same session or presentation and listen passively to the information without triggering the requirements of the Open Meetings Act. A quorum of the board may also host an in-person “viewing party” and watch a session or presentation together as a board, so long as they are present only as observers and do not discuss board business. If it’s likely that a quorum will be accessing the same training session or presentation, either virtually or in-person, be cautious about communicating with one another on matters of board business while participating in the session or presentation.
- Asking general questions or making comments incidental to the training. Board members may “chat” or “raise their hands” during the conference and ask questions or make comments incidental to the training. Discussing education matters in general is distinguishable from discussing the business of a specific school district and would not be prohibited under the Open Meetings Act. Board members should be cautious and avoid discussing the public business of the public body in a chat box, including private chat boxes.
The information above is intended as general information and not legal advice. If you have general questions about your obligations under the Open Meetings Act, please contact OSBA’s Division of Legal Services at (855) OSBA-LAW. If you have specific questions about your board’s participation in the virtual Capital Conference, please contact your board counsel.