Question: How can school board members learn about important rulings concerning the Open Meetings Act or the Freedom of Information Act, and other legal issues involving board work?
Answer: The volume and frequency of binding opinions from the Illinois Public Access Counselor as well as court decisions make it difficult for board members to stay current on the Open Meetings Act (OMA) and the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Court decisions on these and other important aspects of a board member’s role are also easy to overlook.
The IASB office of general counsel summarizes every relevant binding opinion from the Public Access Counselor (PAC). The PAC issues opinions concerning FOIA and OMA, and publishes binding opinions on the Attorney General’s website. These opinions help school board members understand and comply with FOIA and OMA. Our summaries of these opinions are on the IASB website at www.iasb.com/law/, under the heading, FOIA and OMA.
We also summarize court decisions involving board work, specifically decisions concerning administrator contracts, election issues, FOIA, individual board member interests, and OMA. We summarize all Illinois appellate decisions, and occasionally summarize informative decisions from out-of-state. The summaries are published on the same webpage, under the headings Illinois Laws Affecting Schools, then Recent Court and Agency Decisions.
The volume of appellate decisions is illustrated by the fact that before April 1 there were already three decisions in 2014 concerning FOIA. While none of these cases involves a school district, each one is relevant. In February, the Court of Appeals found that a plaintiff may obtain attorney fees under FOIA regardless of the extent that he or she is successful in a court action. In March, the Court of Appeals found that a public body is not obligated under FOIA to answer a requestor’s general inquiry that would require the creation of a new record. The Court, in another March decision, refused to apply the “ adjudicatory” exception to personnel misconduct complaints that were not in fact part of an adjudication. Summaries of these decisions are published on the website.
The website contains summaries of other appellate decisions concerning board work. For example, you can read a summary of a decision in which a school board was charged with exceeding its constitutional or statutory authority. Another summarized decision involves a board charged with violating the working cash fund statute. Another summary covers a decision to bar an individual from running for the school board because of a prior felony conviction.
IASB offers an email update for those who wish to receive notice when a summary of a PAC opinion or court decision is added to the IASB website. Any individual may subscribe by providing an email address at iasb.com/elinks.cfm, or go to the quick links drop down menu in the upper left corner of the IASB website. Choose “Online Update” (second from the bottom). This free subscription service also announces when other publications, legislative reports, or other information are added.
As courts and agencies interpret state and federal laws concerning board work, we will continue to publish summaries to keep board members informed. If you have a question on any of these decisions, or would like for us to e-mail a copy of a decision to you, please contact us by telephone or at OGC@IASB.com.