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Warrior notes: Executive sessions explained

USD 398 superintendent of schools

As a school superintendent, I often am asked about the purpose of executive sessions during school board meetings. The subject can be somewhat confusing so I thought I would take the opportunity to explain the legal issues surrounding executive sessions.

Executive session is a closed-door meeting consisting of board members and any others whom the board feels are appropriate to invite. Most frequently, the superintendent of schools and school administrators or other employees are included but only board members have a legal right to be in attendance during an executive session.

Entering into executive session requires a motion, a second to the motion, and at least four votes to proceed. The motion must include the purpose of the executive session, the names of non-board members who are requested to attend, and the time that the board will return to regular session. No binding action can be taken during closed or executive session and the board must limit its discussion to the topic that was stated in the motion.

There are seven specific reasons why a board of education may conduct an executive session:

1. Personnel Matters for Non-elected Personnel

In school board meetings, this is the most commonly used reason for executive session. The law provides that the individual privacy rights of employees can and should be protected from public forum. Staff evaluations and other staff performance issues are often discussed in executive sessions for non-elected personnel.

2. Consultation with an Attorney

The law provides that a board’s consultation with an attorney is subject to attorney-client privilege and may be conducted in closed session. Any time that a board is engaged in an executive session for attorney-client privilege, an actual attorney must be present or participating in the meeting by phone conference.

3. Employer-Employee Negotiations

During professional negotiations, the board of education is allowed by law to enter closed session to discuss such things as contract language, salary issues, and other items contained in the professional contract. The process of negotiating requires that the board as well as the teachers have some flexibility in resolving issues. Executive session for employer-employee negotiations allows the board to set parameters and give direction to its negotiators while protecting its bargaining power.

4. Confidential Data Related to Financial Affairs or Trade Secrets

In all of my years in education, I have never seen this used by a school board. Boards of education typically do not harbor any trade secrets and the financial affairs of a board of education are public record. This provision for executive session is used primarily in the corporate world.

5. Matters Relating to Actions Adversely or Favorably Affecting a Person as a Student

School boards may enter executive sessions to discuss any matter that may adversely or favorably affect a specific student. Unless a public hearing is requested, boards may enter closed session to hear evidence with regard to suspension, expulsion, promotion, retention, or other issues that impact a specific student. Again, the board can not take action in executive session but they can hear testimony and gather evidence which may impact the binding decisions that are made in open session.

6. Acquisition of Real Property

A school board that is in the process of trying to purchase property can meet in closed session in order to protect its bargaining power in negotiations with the seller.

7. Security of the Board, the School, School Buildings or Facilities, or the Information System of the School

One of the board’s primary responsibilities is to ensure the safety of its students. Because of this, boards may meet in closed session in order to protect certain security-related information. Specific crisis response plans, network security issues and building security are topics that can be protected by meeting in closed session.

Hopefully this short primer helps explain the rationale as well as the legal aspects of executive session and why it is a necessary component of most school board meetings.

On a completely separate note, I am very excited that we are again publishing a monthly newsletter. Several years ago, the district stopped publishing a newsletter as a cost-saving measure but we learned from the survey that we mailed out in May that we need to be doing a better job of informing our patrons about our schools. Our first newsletter should be arriving in mailboxes by the end of the week.

Last modified July 31, 2008

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