June 22, 2004
The staff of the Committee on Open Government is authorized to issue advisory opinions. The ensuing staff advisory opinion is based solely upon the information presented in your correspondence.
I have received your letter concerning meetings of School Leadership Teams ("SLT’s") and school based management teams operating in New York City.
By way of background, in 2003 you questioned the status of the entities in question under the Open Meetings Law, and I prepared an advisory opinion in response. An element of the opinion suggested that the time of the meetings of your interest, 7:20 a.m., conflicted with the judicial construction of the Open Meetings Law. Based upon that advice, you initiated a grievance with the New York City Board of Education and received the following response from the Office of Counsel:
"The Open Meetings Law states that ‘public business be performed in an open and public manner.’ Section 2590-h15(b-1)(ii) of the Education Law has been amended to require that the school leadership teams hold their monthly meetings at a time that is convenient for the parent representatives. Thus, if the parents on the SLT have agreed that their meeting will be held at 7:30 a.m this is consistent with law. If other people wish to attend it is their obligation to make themselves available at the time the team has chosen to meet."
From my perspective, while participation by parent members of school based management teams is clearly a consideration, the ability of others to attend is also relevant.
As indicated in the opinion addressed to you on December 29, 2003, the entities at issue are, in my view, "public bodies" required to comply with the Open Meetings Law. They are creations of law, and it is my understanding that they are the New York City entities that carry out the shared decision making functions required to be accomplished pursuant to §100.11 of the regulations promulgated by the NYS Commissioner of Education.
The provision cited by the Office of Counsel does not, in my opinion, affect the obligation of an SLT or a school based management team to comply with the Open Meetings Law. Section 2590-h(15)(b)(ii) requires that school board management teams shall:
"hold at least one meeting per month during the school year. Each monthly meeting shall be held at a time that is convenient for the parent representatives."
As the foregoing relates to the Open Meetings Law, I believe every statute, including the Open Meetings Law, must be implemented in a manner that gives reasonable effect to its intent. In the only decision that dealt with meetings held as early as those held by the body of your interest, the court found that the entity at issue failed to comply with the Open Meetings Law. To reiterate a point offered in last year’s opinion, the intent of the Open Meetings Law is clearly stated in §100 as follows:
"It is essential to the maintenance of a democratic society that the public business be performed in an open and public manner and that the citizens of this state be fully aware of an able to observe the performance of public officials and attend and listen to the deliberations and decisions that go into the making of public policy. The people must be able to remain informed if they are to retain control over those who are their public servants. It is the only climate under which the commonweal will prosper and enable the governmental process to operate for the benefit of those who created it."
In short, the Open Meetings Law confers a right upon the public to attend and listen to the deliberations of public bodies and to observe the performance of public officials who serve on such bodies.
Further, in the decision to which reference was made involving meetings held at 7:30 a.m., it was stated that:
"It is...apparent to this Court that the scheduling of a board meeting at 7:30 a.m. -- even assuming arguendo that such meetings were properly noticed and promptly conducted -- does not facilitate attendance by members of the public, whether employed within or without the home, particularly those with school age or younger children..." (Matter of Goetchius v. Board of Education, Supreme Court, Westchester County, New York Law Journal, August 8, 1996).
While meetings held at 7:20 a.m. may be convenient for parent members of an SLT or school based management team, many others interested in attending may be unable to do so because they have small children, because of work schedules, commuting, and other matters that might effectively preclude them from attending meetings held so early in the morning. In consideration of those persons and the holding by the court, I continue to believe that it would be unreasonable and inconsistent with law for an SLT or school based management team to conduct meetings at or near 7:20 a.m.
I hope that I have been of assistance.
Robert J. Freeman
cc: Susan W. Holtzman