Update on Open Public Meetings

Updated 3/26/20

Governor’s Proclamation 20-28 temporarily suspends portions of the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) and the Public Records Act (PRA — see WSSDA’s update) to help stem the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19). Proclamation 20-28 is in effect from March 24 to midnight, April 23, 2020, unless extended beyond that date. Here are some key takeaways for school board directors:

  • School boards conducting regular and special board meetings during the COVID-19 disease outbreak must continue to hold those meetings to be open to the public.
  • The proclamation suspends OPMA language requiring school boards to provide a physical location for the public to attend meetings in-person. 
  • The proclamation requires that all attendance at an open public meeting not take place in-person but occur remotely, including the board directors and the public.
  • The proclamation requires that these remote meetings include an option for telephonic access, such as those embedded in a Zoom or Go-To Meeting, for the public to attend. Those attending the meeting must be able to hear each other at the same time.
    • This means it would be insufficient to record the meeting and later post it on your website. Instead, the public must be able to hear the persons talking while the meeting is underway. Similarly, the public must be able to hear oral public comment, if there is oral public comment.
    • Under the proclamation, there is no violation for asking the public to register to use a conference call-in or remote access login by entering name / email information. However, methods that minimize requirements on the public to register are preferred.
  • The proclamation suspends the ability of school boards to take “action” on matters at a meeting unless they are: (1) matters necessary and routine, or (2) necessary to respond to the outbreak and current public health emergency. This means you will need to confine board meeting topics to those meeting the above criteria and other matters will need to wait.
    • Use a “plain language” or “ordinary meaning” approach to determining whether matters fit the criteria and make a reasonable judgement.
    • What is necessary and routine is contextual to your school district and your situation.
    • Remember the cornerstone purposes of the OPMA that actions and deliberation be conducted openly.

Implementing the Governor’s Proclamation

  • Arrange for remote attendance at board meetings by all board members and the public. This can be a Zoom or Go-to meeting that includes a phone in option.
  • Inform the public that their ability to attend school board meetings is limited to remote attendance and in-person attendance will not permitted at this time.
  • Consider placing call-in or login information on meeting agendas and on your district’s websites.
  • Consider distributing information on how to attend in ways other than your website, such as media releases and social media, this is especially important if your district does not have a website.
  • In addition, note that provisions such as those requiring the posting of meeting notices or adjournments at the district’s office or physical location have been suspended. Similarly, references to a meeting “room” and a “site” have been suspended.

The Office of Attorney General has provided additional guidance issued 3/26/20 on the temporary waiver.