Updates on Open Public Meetings

Update September 1, 2020

On August 31, 2020, Washington’s legislative leadership extended the statutory waivers and suspensions in Proclamation 20-28, regarding the Open Public Meetings Act and the Public Records Act until October 1, 2020.

On September 2, 2020, the Governor issued Proclamation 20-28.9, which continues to provide some flexibility for school boards in counties that are currently in Phase 3.

Update August 3, 2020

Based on the continued emergency, on July 30, 2020 the leadership of Washington’s legislature extended the statutory waivers and suspensions related to the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) and the Public Records Act. Governor Inslee then issued Proclamation 20-28.8, which extends these waivers and suspensions until September 1, 2020.

Please note that the amended version of Proclamation 20-28 provides more flexibility for agencies (including school boards) meeting in Phase 3 counties, and allows for an in-person component consistent with Phase 3 gathering limitations and the OPMA’s legal requirements.

Update July 8, 2020

On July 7, 2020, the leadership of Washington’s legislature extended the statutory waivers and suspensions related to the Open Public Meetings Act and the Public Records Act. Governor Inslee then issued Proclamation 20-28.7, which extends these waivers and suspensions until until August 1, 2020.  

Update July 2, 2020

OPMA suspensions/waivers have been extended through 11:59 p.m. July 7. A new proclamation from the governor is expected very soon.

Update June 19, 2020

The governor has issued a new proclamation related to open public meetings.

Update June 18, 2020

OPMA Suspensions/Waivers Extended

The legislative leadership extended the statutory waivers/suspensions of the Open Public Meeting Act (OPMA) and Public Records Act (PRA) cited in Proclamation 20-28.4 until 11:59 p.m. July 1, 2020. 

Based on this extension, meetings that are open to the public must be held remotely and must provide for remote public attendance, which at a minimum includes telephonic access. 

Update May 30, 2020

OPMA Suspensions/Waivers Extended

Washington state’s legislative leadership has extended Governor Inslee’s Proclamation 20-28.3, which was previously due to expire on May 31, 2020, until June 17, 2020.

Proclamation 20-28.3 waives/suspends portions of the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) and Public Records Act (PRA). There is one change regarding the OPMA from prior proclamations. This current proclamation no longer restricts the action that boards may take during meetings. This means that boards are no longer restricted to action deemed “necessary and routine” or “necessary to respond to COVID-19 outbreak / the public health emergency.

The other OPMA waivers/suspensions remain in effect at this time, including that boards conduct remote meetings and not meet in-person.

Update May 5, 2020

OPMA Suspensions/Waivers Extended

Most of the governor’s proclamation regarding the Open Public Meeting Act and Public Records Act temporary suspension/waivers are extended again to May 31, 2020except for the Public Records Act five-business day agency response requirement in RCW 42.56.520(1) which is extended to May 11, 2020. See the extension notification letter from legislators.

Update: April 23, 2020

The Leadership of the Washington State Legislature issued a letter extending the statutory waivers and suspensions cited in the Governor’s Proclamation 02-28 until the termination of the COVID-19 State of Emergency or May 4, 2020, whichever occurs first.

Update: March 26, 2020

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.