by Dr. Terry Stoops
Former Director of the Center for Effective Education, John Locke Foundation
In honor of Sunshine Week, WRAL outlines a few of the problems that journalists face when they try to obtain minutes from closed sessions of school board and State Board of Education meetings. Carolina Journal’s Kari Travis gets a well-deserved mention in the article.
One thing boards sometimes refuse to reveal is how individual members voted in closed session.
That was the case with the State Board of Education. On Dec. 28, 2016, the board had a big decision to make. Should it sue the state over House Bill 17? The law, in part, stripped the board’s powers and shifted them to new State Superintendent Mark Johnson. After half an hour in closed session, the board emerged with a decision – they would file a lawsuit.
Kari Travis, associate editor for Carolina Journal, wanted to know which members supported the lawsuit and which ones, if any, opposed it, so she put in a request to find out.
State board Chairman Bill Cobey confirmed the closed-session vote but refused to disclose the voting record, citing attorney/client privilege, Travis reported. A majority of board members voted to file the suit, Cobey said, declining to be more specific.
Travis requested minutes from the board’s meeting and found that they failed to include details about the closed session. The document said members “went into Closed Session to discuss matters of attorney/client business on confidential and privileged matters.” The minutes then immediately skipped to a record of adjournment, according to Travis’ report.
Even when there is a record of a closed session meeting, minutes recorded in those sessions often do not include essential information.