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Open Meetings Act

DID THE NOTICE OF THE BOARD MEETING COMPLY WITH THE OPEN MEETINGS ACT?

Case citation:  Concerned Parents v. Katy ISD, Dkt. No. 060-R10-0312 (Comm’r Educ.  August 30, 2013).

Summary:   The Katy Independent School District initiated a process to consider proposed school boundary changes.  Prior to the final board action, three public workshops were held, each of which was preceded by the posting of materials to be discussed.  The administration’s recommendation was posted on the board’s website prior to the board meeting to consider the boundary changes.  The administration’s proposed boundary changes concerned three elementary schools and one middle school.  The district set the final meeting of the school board for January 23, 2012.  The notice of the board meeting read:  “VIII.  Discussion/Action:  1. Discuss and consider Board approval of attendance boundary modifications.”  The notice also specified that an open forum would be held.  During the open forum, citizens spoke for and against the boundary changes and each citizen spoke for about the same time period.  The board ultimately adopted the proposed boundary changes, with one exception related to keeping students from one land use zone at its current elementary school.

Concerned Parents and Taxpayers of Kay ISD and Tom Anderson appealed the board’s decision to the Commissioner of Education.  They claimed that the board’s decision violated the Texas Constitution, school board policy, and the Texas Open Meetings Act.

Ruling:  The Commissioner upheld the board’s decision.  The Commissioner first concluded that jurisdiction did not exist over claims that the district violated the Texas Constitution or its own board policies.  The Commissioner, however, had jurisdiction over violations of the Texas Open Meetings Act under Texas Education Code § 26.007(b).  The main issue was whether the district posted proper notice of the board meeting.  The petitioners argued that the notice was insufficient because it did not inform the public that the board might amend the administration’s recommended boundary changes.

Under the Open Meetings Act, a governmental body is required to provide notice of each meeting, and include in the notice the subject of the meeting.  The notice must allow the reader to be alerted that action would be considered with respect to a particular subject.  There is no necessity to post copies of proposed resolutions or to state all of the consequences that may necessarily flow from the consideration of the subject stated.  As public interest increases in a matter, there is a requirement for increased specificity of the notice.  Here, considering the interest in the subject matter and the full context of the district’s actions concerning school attendance zone changes, the district’s notice for the board meeting of January 23, 2012 met the notice requirements under the Open Meetings Act.  There was nothing in the notice that prohibited the board from amending or changing the administration’s recommended boundary changes.  The notice was specific enough to put the public on notice of the board’s action and that an open forum would be provided.  The Commissioner upheld the board’s actions.

Things to Remember:  Notice that the Commissioner’s jurisdiction is limited to the “school laws of Texas” which is generally limited to Articles I and II of the Education Code. But because T.E.C. § 26.007(b) requires school board meetings to comply with the TOMA, the Commissioner also asserts jurisdiction over complaints that the board violated that law.