Public Access Opinion 21-011

Proper Remote Meeting During a Public Health Emergency

Open Meetings Act - OMA
Case: Public Access Opinion 21-011
Date: Tuesday, December 14, 2021

The Jersey Community Unit School District Board of Education (Board) did not violate OMA when it held a remote meeting on September 16, 2021.

Requestor submitted a Request for Review on September 17, 2021, to the PAC alleging that the Board did not hold a proper meeting. The Board held its meeting on Zoom and did not have any in-person attendance for the public. Requestor provided the PAC with a link to the Board’s livestream video recording of the meeting as well as a copy of the agenda. The agenda explained that, “[d]ue to the increasing [Covid-19] metrics in the community and upon the recommendation of local officials, the Board may participate by audio or video conference without the physical presence of a quorum of the members due to the determination that an in-person meeting is not practical or prudent due to the current health emergency.”
Requestor noted that the Board held in-person meetings earlier during the pandemic when Covid-19 rates were higher. Requestor suspected that the pandemic was being used as a pretext to disallow in-person attendance. The Board President responded by saying that he was advised to hold the meeting remotely because of the “disruptive” nature of the previous Board meeting. Requestor was also concerned because the audio was difficult to hear and that conducting Board meetings over Zoom was unfair to those who can’t afford internet service.

Section 7(e)(1) of OMA states that if, “the Governor or the Director of the Illinois Department of Public Health has issued a disaster declaration related to public health concerns because of a disaster as defined in Section 4 of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency Act, and all or part of the jurisdiction of the public body is covered by the disaster area,” then the physical presence of a quorum is not necessary for an open or closed meeting. The PAC held that the Board’s meeting complied with this section of OMA because the Governor’s disaster proclamation for Covid-19 was still in effect.

Section 7(e)(2) of OMA requires that “the head of the public body as defined in subsection (e) of Section 2 of [FOIA] determines that an in-person meeting or a meeting conducted under [OMA] is not practical or prudent because of a disaster[.]” The PAC also held that the Board complied with section 7(e)(2), reasoning that the Board’s remote meeting was prudent because several members of the public had refused to cooperate with the Board’s masking requirement during their August meeting.
The PAC also found the Board was also in compliance with section 7(e)(4) of OMA, which states that when “attendance at the regular meeting location is not feasible due to the disaster, including the issued disaster declaration…the public body must make alternative arrangements to allow any interested member of the public access to contemporaneously hear all discussion[.]” The Board provided access by providing the public a Zoom link to its meeting.

For these reasons, the PAC held that the Board complied with OMA when it held their meeting remotely.

This opinion is binding only to the parties involved and may be appealed pursuant to State law.