Illinois Attorney General Public Access Counselor Addresses Public Comment and Participation

Sep 1, 2020

by Christine Self

The Public Access Counselor (PAC) determined that the Board of Education of Bloomingdale School District 13 (Board) violated section 7(e)(4) of the Open Meetings Act (OMA) by improperly restricting access to its July 27, 2020 regular meeting.

Section 2.01 of OMA, as amended by Public Act 101-0640, requires all public meetings be “held at specified times and places which are convenient and open to the public.” Section 7(e)(4), added to OMA on June 12, 2020, created a framework for holding remote meetings during public health emergencies such as the COVID-19 pandemic. That framework allows remote meetings conducted by audio or video so long as certain conditions are met. Those conditions include that the public body make alternative arrangements to “allow any interested member of the public access to contemporaneously hear all discussions, testimony and roll call votes.”

The Board held its July 27, 2020 meeting pursuant to this framework and permitted public attendance via Zoom. The Board acknowledged that it anticipated the meeting would generate significant interest due to the school reopening agenda item. The Board believed the 100-person limit of the Zoom version it was using would be sufficient, based on historical participation, but more than 100 people attempted to contemporaneously access the meeting and some were unable to access. The PAC also determined that the Board’s recording of the meeting and posting it the following day did not meet the requirement to provide contemporaneous access to members of the public.

The PAC did not issue a binding opinion in this matter because the Board acquired a Zoom license for a greater number of participants and no remedial action was necessary under those circumstances. However, this determination provides important guidance to the PAC’s definition of reasonable contemporaneous access under the remote meeting provisions.

Illinois Education – Tueth Keeney is proud to be one of the state’s largest Illinois education law practices. The firm has one of the most experienced groups of attorneys in Central and Southern Illinois dedicated to serving public schools. We regularly represent nearly 150 public school districts, including many districts in Central and Southern Illinois. Our Firm is also regularly appointed by insurers of educational institutions to represent districts in complex or difficult cases involving school or civil rights laws.

Christine Self practices in the areas of education law and employment law. She has developed employment policies and advised public employers on labor matters and laws such as the Freedom of Information Act and the Illinois Open Meetings Act. She has experience with collective bargaining and disciplinary investigations into employee misconduct. As a former public school teacher, she is committed to assisting schools navigate the legal requirements of the education environment so school leaders and educators can provide the best educational opportunities for students.