Fully virtual board meetings area thing of the past, at least for the time being. Senate Bill 661, enacted this past March during the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak, temporarily amended the Oklahoma Open Meetings Act to allow public bodies to conduct their business virtually. It was a welcome change, used at least for a time by many school boards throughout the state.
The bill contained an expiration date of November 15th, 2020, or when the governor declared the state of emergency to be terminated, whichever occurred first. Although we’re still under a state of emergency, it is now well past November 15th. How quickly that date crept up on us, and yet we are still grappling with increasing cases of the virus! Unfortunately, the amendatory language has expired, and the Open Meetings Act is back to the way it was. As of the date of this writing, there is no indication the matter will be taken up in a special session. Thus, it will be months before anything could conceivably change.
What does that mean to your district? For the foreseeable future, meetings will have to be conducted in person, and the public will be allowed to attend those meetings. The board may put safeguards in place, such as requiring masks to be worn, spacing out chairs to ensure proper social distancing, and/or use of a larger meeting space than the regular boardroom.
Are there any alternatives? Sort of. Although it is not likely to be very practical for use under the current COVID conditions, there is an existing provision in the Open Meetings Act for “videoconference” meetings.
For such a meeting to occur, at least a quorum of the public body must be present in the location as specified on the posted meeting notice and agenda. The notice and agenda must state whether there will also be any videoconference locations, and if so, where each is located, and which board member(s) will be present at each location. The location must be a site within the district or political subdivision, and it must be open and accessible for the public to attend (and participate, per district policy on public participation) in person, just like the “normal” meeting site. Once the agenda is posted, each board member may only attend the meeting at the site specified for each board member’s presence as listed on the agenda. Finally, and notably, executive sessions may not be conducted by videoconference.
If you have questions or need clarification about this change, please let me know.
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