The Minnesota School Board Association has changed its guidance on how school boards should conduct meetings during a pandemic due to an advisory opinion by the Department of Administration that was released last week.
The advisory opinion request, submitted by Marshall Helmberger, publisher of The Timberjay newspaper, claims the St. Louis County School Board violated open meeting laws Sept. 22, Nov. 24, Jan. 5 and Jan. 26 by having an in-person quorum but not allowing the public to attend in person.
Alice Roberts-Davis, commissioner of the Department of Administration, said in her opinion, which was posted April 19, that the School Board did not comply with the open meeting laws on those dates.
“(Moberg v. Independent School District No. 281) indicates that a meeting consists of a gathering of a quorum of a public body. In order for public bodies to hold a meeting via telephone or other electronic means under Section 13D.021, it must first determine that ‘an in-person meeting … is not practical or prudent because of a health pandemic or an emergency declared under chapter 12,’” Roberts-Davis wrote in the advisory opinion. “In other words, Section 13D.021, subdivision 1 requires public bodies to determine that it is not practical or prudent for ‘a quorum or more members of the governing body’ to hold an in-person gathering, ‘at which members discuss, decide, or receive information as a group on issues relating to the official business of that governing body.’”
St. Louis County Schools Superintendent Reggie Engebritson told the News Tribune they were working to correct language the School Board passed Jan. 26 that limited meetings to one resident at a time.
Engebritson said the public will be allowed to attend meetings in person while social distancing and wearing masks. If a bigger venue is determined to be needed, Engebritson said they'll work to provide one.
A Zoom link, which is posted on the meeting agendas, will still be available for residents to watch meetings online.
This opinion prompted the Minnesota School Board Association to issue guidance stating that school board meetings should either be held in person — without restrictions on public attendance — or held completely virtually.
Due to this new guidance, the Duluth School Board is now holding all meetings virtually until further notice. This includes the Tuesday, April 27, regular School Board meeting. Duluth had been holding in-person meetings in April, but restricted the public to only attend virtually, which, according to the administration commissioner, was a violation of open meeting laws.
Duluth School Board meetings can be viewed at youtube.com/DuluthSchools or on Charter Channel 187.
Board Chair Jill Lofald was not immediately available for comment.