Illinois AG: District 25 board violated Open Meetings Act with mask-optional vote
The Illinois attorney general's office has ruled the Arlington Heights Elementary District 25 school board violated the Open Meetings Act, calling its July 15 meeting agenda "too vague and imprecise" ahead of a vote to make masks optional.
The posted agenda for the meeting simply listed "2021-2022 School Year Update" under Superintendent Lori Bein's monthly report. But the Attorney General's Public Access Bureau concluded the agenda did not serve as adequate notice of the board's move to approve its school year operating plan that included the mask policy and other COVID-19 related measures.
"The item listed on the Board's agenda -- 2021-2022 School Year Update -- was too vague and imprecise to provide any meaningful notice to the public that the Board might take action to approve recommendations concerning such measures," wrote Deputy Public Access Counselor Leah Bartelt in her six-page Oct. 19 determination letter.
But because Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued an executive order mandating masks in schools just weeks after the District 25 board vote, "no remedial action is necessary to rectify this violation," Bartelt wrote.
However, she encouraged the school board to include more descriptive items on future agendas to ensure the Open Meetings Act is being followed.
Bein acknowledged the violation just before 1 a.m. Friday at the end of a marathon school board meeting that began nearly six hours before. The lengthy meeting included recognitions to students and veterans; review of a five-year facilities master plan, assessments and tax levy; robust debate about which Illinois Association of School Boards lobbying efforts to support or not; and public comment about vaccinations and COVID-19 issues.
"The attorney general did tell us that we should be creating agendas that are more clear to the community," said Bein, adding that the district has added supporting documentation to its online agendas. "The governor enacted the executive order and we followed the executive order, so there was nothing that we needed to change about the action, but just that moving forward that we do make sure -- and that is on me working with (board President Scott Filipek) -- that our agendas are clear for when someone reads it from the public on what really is involved in that topic."
"I need to do a better job of putting together our agendas that are clearer," Bein said.
The board's attorney had argued in an earlier response to the attorney general that the public had sufficient understanding of what was to be discussed at the July meeting because of an earlier presentation and extensive discussion at the June meeting.
But the public access counselor said a meeting agenda must provide sufficient notice to members of the public who have not previously attended a meeting.
The request for review by the attorney general was brought by parent Jim Small, who said Friday he's been disappointed by the board, including the limited disclosure about the violation made in the early hours of the morning.
"It was clear that the board took no responsibility for breaking the one and only law they are supposed to follow," Small said. "Whether you agree or not with the vote they made leading to this violation, it is clear the public as a whole needs to hold them accountable because they have no interest in doing so themselves."