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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Ind. Gov't. - "Indianapolis Public School Board met illegally Monday night"

Andy Gammill of the Indianapolis Star reports today:

The Indianapolis Public School Board met illegally Monday night when it convened in private to discuss closing five schools, several public meeting experts said.

Board members justified the closed-door executive session by citing a state law that allows private meetings to discuss pending litigation. * * *

How the district handles its school closings, IPS said, relates to the 1968 lawsuit in which the district was found guilty of de jure segregation. The district is still under a court order on its implementation of that ruling, and a district spokeswoman said officials cited that case in good faith.

Districts cannot, however, cite cases that already have been closed, said Heather Neal, the state's appointed public access counselor. The counselor is appointed by the governor to help the public understand the state's laws governing access to records and public meetings.

IPS could have such an executive session, Neal said, only if the case was still pending. She said the court order signifies the case was finished. The late Judge S. Hugh Dillin ruled against the district in 1971. * * *

"It's astonishing, and it's an affront to the public that they would make that sort of claim," said Fred Cate, a law professor at Indiana University. "The general principle to the law is that all of the public's business should be done in public."

IPS attorneys did not return phone calls Tuesday seeking comment. Superintendent Eugene White said even if pending litigation was a mistaken basis for a closed meeting, the law would allow the board to meet privately to discuss personnel issues that arise from closing schools.

Indiana law allows boards to hold executive sessions on personnel matters only to discuss job-performance reviews or to interview job candidates. Cate said that limits the board to only a few narrow topics.

The district, Cate said, should only be holding an executive session on pending litigation to discuss strategy with its attorneys and not to discuss broad issues that could be related to a case.
IPS had other options available to lay the groundwork for school closings without making the information public, Cate said. But once the board became involved, it should have been open, he said.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on October 24, 2007 08:09 AM
Posted to Indiana Government