This is the first in a series of articles written by ASBSD Leadership Development Director Dr. Randall Royer examining South Dakota’s Open Meeting Law.
South Dakota’s Open Meeting Law is the governing statute for conducting a school board meeting. South Dakota Codified Law (SDCL) 1-25-1 requires that official meetings of public bodies must be public, and notice is to be given of such meetings 24 hours in advance of the meetings.
Generally an “official meeting” is:
- A meeting of a legal quorum of the public body is present at the same place and the same time;
- Public business, meaning any matter relating to the activities of the entity, is discussed.
So, yes, if a quorum of your local school board happens to meet at the Friday night football game, and starts discussing school board issues during half-time, and have not given 24 hours of such meeting, you are in violation of the SD Open Meeting Law.
What to do?
In smaller communities, chance meetings of school board members may be more common than in larger communities, but regardless of the size of the community, illegal meetings should be avoided at all costs.
Sometimes the perception of an illegal meeting is worse than the actual substance of the ‘meeting’, but could be just as damaging. When a chance meeting of a quorum of the local school board happens, it is probably best that the conversation not include anything related to the school district.
Invite non-board members into the conversation to help steer it away from board issues. Dissolve the chance meeting as quickly as it materialized. Do not give the ‘viewing’ public any hint of wrong-doing, so as to maintain the professionalism of the board and the work it does.
What if the chance meeting of a quorum of the local school board does include conversations about school issues, essentially violating the SD Open Meeting Law?
By not advertising the meeting 24 hours in advance to the media and the public, and not allowing either one or both to observe the meeting is a Class 2 misdemeanor punishable by a maximum of 30 days in jail, a $500 fine or both or a reprimand by the Open Meeting Commission (OMC). The same penalties apply for any violation of the Open Meeting Law.
Avoid at all costs an ‘illegal’ meeting of your school board, or even the appearance of one. Know the law, and follow it to the letter.