Public Access Opinion 22-006

Board Took Final Action Without Voting

Open Meetings Act - OMA
Case: Public Access Opinion 22-006
Date: Friday, May 6, 2022

On February 15, 2022, Requestor submitted a Request for Review to the Public Access Counselor (PAC), complaining that the Board of Education of Community Consolidated School District No. 93 had “voted” to make masks optional in the District without including an action item on the agenda. At its regular meeting on February 10, 2022, the Board had a thorough discussion about the COVID-19 mitigation plan presented by the Superintendent and came to a consensus to remove the mask requirement and instead recommend masking. The Board directed the Superintendent to send out messaging that the masks would be recommended, but not required, beginning February 14, 2022. The Superintendent’s subsequent message to the school community indicated that the Board had made the decision at its last board meeting to transition away from the mask requirement.
The Board contended that it did not violate Open Meetings Act (OMA) because while it discussed the mitigation plan during the meeting, it never took a roll call vote on the plan. In support of its position, the Board cited several Illinois court cases holding that there is no final action under OMA unless there is a public vote. Nevertheless, the PAC found that failure to treat the board’s consensus decision as a final action under OMA would be contrary to the legislative intent provided in Section 1 of OMA, to give “citizens advance notice of and the right to attend all meeting at which any business of a public body is discussed or acted upon in any way.” The PAC stated that “OMA does not permit a public body to make and implement a decision concerning a substantive matter, such as masking guidelines in public schools for student and staff during a pandemic, without providing the general subject matter of that decision on the meeting agenda.”
This PAC opinion serves as a reminder that public bodies are less likely to attract OMA complaints if they err on the side of transparency, especially when it comes to more controversial issues in which there is a high level of public interest.
This opinion is binding only to the parties involved and may be appealed pursuant to State law.