Updates on Open Public Meetings
Holding Board Meetings
Revised August 26, 2021
(Download the PDF)
Face Coverings Required
Currently, school boards opting to host in-person public meetings under the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) may do so without restriction on capacity and without physical distancing requirements. However, face coverings are required in any indoor space. Additionally, Proclamation 20-25.15 prohibits “any governmental, commercial, or nonprofit entity or private party from allowing any individual to enter or remain in any indoor space under their control unless the individual is in compliance with the secretary of health’s face covering order and any subsequent amendments.”
What to Do if Persons Refuse to Wear a Face Covering
- The first response is a pleasant reminder that wearing a face covering is required.
- School districts must refuse admittance to anyone who refuses to wear a face covering. This refusal of admittance includes board directors, members of the executive team, and staff.
- Remind anyone who is resistant to wearing a face covering that virtual access to the meeting is available.
- If someone enters wearing a face covering, but then removes their face covering (other than for something such as taking a brief sip of water from a water bottle), remind them that they must wear a face covering or leave and that virtual access to the meeting is available.
- Anyone refusing to wear/continue to wear a face covering has disrupted the meeting and made it unfeasible. The board must do one of the following:
- Remove anyone who refuses to wear a face covering, including board members
- Clear the room entirely and readmit all individuals not responsible for the disruption. The board will admit/readmit any representatives of the news media, except those participating in a disturbance. RCW 42.30.050
- Recess/adjourn the meeting to another place and/or time. Currently, all open public meetings can be held in an entirely virtual format.
Other Considerations for Board Meetings
- If offering an in-person component, consider whether it is possible for board members to greet attendees as they enter. This creates a more welcoming atmosphere and humanizes the board.
- Remember that offering an in-person component to a board meeting is optional, whereas offering a virtual component is required. Nothing prevents school boards from holding board meetings in an entirely virtual manner, which avoids disruption over face coverings.
- Review your board’s policy and procedure regarding meeting conduct, public attendance, and public comment. For many boards, the relevant policy/procedure is “1400/1400P – Meeting conduct, Order of Business and Quorum,” but your board’s policy may have a different number or title. Ensure that your board has adopted (and follows) provisions for conducting a civil, orderly meeting. Board members are discouraged from engaging in dialogue with the public during public comment period. It is best just to listen. Remind your community that the board’s silence during public comment period neither signifies disagreement or agreement and the board values hearing from the community.
- Consider whether your regular board meeting is the most conducive format for initial consideration of certain issues, particularly a controversial issue. Think about adding some informal educational sessions and listening sessions to offer more ways for community engagement. Although these meetings are less structured than a regular board meeting, they would still be subject to face covering requirements.
- Failing to enforce face covering requirements opens the school district to liability for the spread of any communicable disease. Possible lawsuits could allege board members were deliberately indifferent to following emergency proclamations and aligning with state health guidelines.
- Insurance coverage for communicable diseases is currently unavailable.
- School board members are individually named in lawsuits and their personal finances may be sought as a remedy.