The school board met behind closed doors April 5 to determine policy regarding Senate Bill 40, which gives boards sole authority to take action in response to the COVID pandemic.
Although the bill states “Any meeting or hearing of a local school board discussing an action taken, order issued, or policy adopted shall be open to the public and may be conducted by electronic audio-visual communication when necessary to secure the health and safety of the public, the board, and employees,” the board discussed the bill in executive session.
The closed session was called under “attorney/client” privilege, although when members emerged they passed a resolution abdicating authority to the district administration, although stipulating the board be notified.
When The Gardner News questioned via e-mail the need for closed door discussion, no response was received from Pam Stranathan, administrator, Shawn Carlisle, board president, or Rob Shippy, vice president.
Deb Starling, clerk of the board, replied, “The Board of Education retired into executive session under attorney-client relationship under KOMA. It is USD 231 Board Policy BCBK and would fall under #2 which is; The exception for matters which would be deemed privileged in the attorney-client relationship under KOMA.”
Starling continued, the recommended action stated: “Motion to go into executive session to discuss potential litigation with our legal counsel pursuant to the exception for matters which would be deemed privileged in the attorney-client relationship under KOMA, and the open meeting will resume in the boardroom at ______ p.m.”
At press time no reply was received asking if there was potential litigation that would require the district’s general policy be discussed behind closed doors.
Under 2016 statute for the Kansas Open Meetings Act section 2 states:
(2)consultation with an attorney for the public body or agency which would be deemed privileged in the attorney-client relationship.
It is unclear what would be considered privileged in adopting board policy.
SB 40 creates a section of law providing that, during the COVID-19 state of disaster emergency, only the board of education responsible for the maintenance, development, and operation of a school district (local school board) shall have the authority to take any action, issue any order, or adopt any policy made or taken in response to such disaster emergency that affects the operation of any school or attendance center of the school district.
The complete bill is available online at http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2021_22/measures/documents/summary_sb_40_2021.