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OVN OPINION page editorial: A written public comment school board can’t ignore

OUSD

Editor's note: As of July 16 or 17, after this Ojai Valley News editorial was published, Ojai Unified School District added a link to written public comments on its OUSD agenda page. The written public comments on the OUSD website are only those that are submitted on the electronic OUSD Public Comment Form, meaning not all written public comments to the entire school board are included on the OUSD website.

 

At Ojai Unified School District’s special school board meeting July 12, the school board and administration once again drew a darker curtain, further obscuring the public’s view of its public business.

Despite letters, requests, and calls from the Ojai Valley News in an effort to educate the school district trustees on the laws regarding public comment, OUSD continues to flout them by withholding public comments longer than legally allowed by law. 

While plenty of time is allotted during school board meetings for awards and recognitions, the board introduced a new policy July 12 to eliminate reading of public comments at the meeting. Now, for members of the public to view these written public comments, they can ask to receive them and will get them the day after the meeting or they can wait until they are included with OUSD board meeting minutes, generally days after the meeting, often after the issues have been voted on. 

Below is an Ojai Valley News written public comment for elected school board members President Jane Weil, Michael Shanahan, Shelly Griffen, Rebecca Chandler and Kevin Ruf: 

The public matters. 

They are: 

• The constituents who voted for you. 

• The mothers, fathers and guardians who choose to send their children to our public schools. 

• The students who attend our schools. 

• The teachers and staff members who commit their lives to teaching and inspiring our children.

• The taxpayers who vote for school bonds and whose hard-earned money pays the salaries of administrators, teachers and staff. 

• The community members who volunteer to help raise money for band, books, teachers’ aides, make costumes for school plays, sit on parent-teacher committees, chaperone field trips, build gazebos, and so much more. 

They are the ones our elected school board members are muzzling by announcing on a previously unscheduled Monday, July 12, special meeting agenda — notice of which was sent to the public midafternoon Friday, July 9 — that public written comments now “will not be read at the meeting.” However, they will be “sent to board members and entered into the public record.” 

The Ojai Valley News in January politely requested, to no avail, the OUSD administration to provide written public comments for school board meetings to the public at the same time the school board members receive them, as required by state law and by the OUSD Board Bylaw 9322. 

The school board members are in violation of their OUSD Board Bylaw 9322  and the state open-meeting law called the Brown Act, specifically California Government Code 54957.5 

Public participation in public meetings via public comments is key to good governance. School board members are not expected to know everything. They need to hear and weigh the opinions of the people who teach and learn in classrooms, who care for students and school facilities, and parents and guardians who deeply care about the education of their children. 

The introduction to the Brown Act reads that the public does not give elected officials “the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know.” Ojai Valley residents do not yield our sovereignty to the school board. 

We expect and demand our elected trustees obey state law and follow their own guidelines by providing written public comments submitted for school board meetings to the public when the school board receives them. 

They can easily email, post and/or read the public comments in time for the public to review them as the school board is making decisions. We will all be better for it. 

In the meantime, in an effort to draw back the curtain, the Ojai Valley News will be working to obtain and post OUSD public comments on the main menu of our website “OUSD Public Comments” when they are received by the board members. 

We encourage the public to send copies of their OUSD public comments to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. 

Let the school board trustees know the public’s voice matters. 

Trustees can be reached via email at: 

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

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California Government Code 54957.5 and OUSD Board Bylaw 9322 for reference

(Emphasis added in color and bold and larger type)  

California Government Code 54957.5

(a) Notwithstanding Section 6255 or any other law, agendas of public meetings and any other writings, when distributed to all, or a majority of all, of the members of a legislative body of a local agency by any person in connection with a matter subject to discussion or consideration at an open meeting of the body, are disclosable public records under the California Public Records Act (Chapter 3.5 (commencing with Section 6250) of Division 7 of Title 1), and shall be made available upon request without delay. However, this section shall not include any writing exempt from public disclosure under Section 6253.5, 6254, 6254.3, 6254.7, 6254.15, 6254.16, 6254.22, or 6254.26.

(b) (1) If a writing that is a public record under subdivision (a), and that relates to an agenda item for an open session of a regular meeting of the legislative body of a local agency, is distributed less than 72 hours prior to that meeting, the writing shall be made available for public inspection pursuant to paragraph (2) at the time the writing is distributed to all, or a majority of all, of the members of the body.

(2)  A local agency shall make any writing described in paragraph (1) available for public inspection at a public office or location that the agency shall designate for this purpose. Each local agency shall list the address of this office or location on the agendas for all meetings of the legislative body of that agency. The local agency also may post the writing on the local agency’s Internet Web site  in a position and manner that makes it clear that the writing relates to an agenda item for an upcoming meeting.

(3) This subdivision shall become operative on July 1, 2008.

(c) Writings that are public records under subdivision (a) and that are distributed during a public meeting shall be made available for public inspection at the meeting if prepared by the local agency or a member of its legislative body, or after the meeting if prepared by some other person. These writings shall be made available in appropriate alternative formats upon request by a person with a disability, as required by Section 202 of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (42 U.S.C. Sec. 12132), and the federal rules and regulations adopted in implementation thereof.

(d) This chapter shall not be construed to prevent the legislative body of a local agency from charging a fee or deposit for a copy of a public record pursuant to Section 6253, except that a surcharge shall not be imposed on persons with disabilities in violation of Section 202 of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (42 U.S.C. Sec. 12132), and the federal rules and regulations adopted in implementation thereof.

(e) This section shall not be construed to limit or delay the public’s right to inspect or obtain a copy of any record required to be disclosed under the requirements of the California Public Records Act (Chapter 3.5 (commencing with Section 6250) of Division 7 of Title 1).This chapter shall not be construed to require a legislative body of a local agency to place any paid advertisement or any other paid notice in any publication.

(Amended by Stats. 2013, Ch. 326, Sec. 1. (AB 382) Effective January 1, 2014.)

  

OUSD Board Bylaw 9322

Agenda Content

Board of Education meeting agendas shall state the meeting time and place and shall briefly describe each business item to be transacted or discussed, including items to be discussed in closed session. (Government Code 54954.2)

(cf. 9320 - Meetings and Notices)

(cf. 9321- Closed Session Purposes and Agendas)

The agenda shall provide members of the public the opportunity to address the Board on any agenda item before or during the Board's consideration of the item. The agenda shall also provide members of the public an opportunity to testify at regular meetings on matters which are not on the agenda but which are within the subject matter jurisdiction of the Board. (Education Code 35145.5; Government Code 54954.3)

(cf. 9323 - Meeting Conduct)

Each meeting agenda shall list the address designated by the Superintendent or designee for public inspection of agenda documents that have been distributed to the Board less than 72 hours before the meeting. (Government Code 54957.5)

The agenda shall specify that an individual should contact the Superintendent or designee if he/she requires disability-related accommodations or modifications, including auxiliary aids and services, in order to participate in the Board meeting. (Government Code 54954.2)

Agenda Preparation

The Board president and the Superintendent, as secretary to the Board, shall work together to develop the agenda for each regular and special meeting. Each agenda shall reflect the district's vision and goals and the Board's focus on student learning.

(cf. 0000 - Vision)

(cf. 0200 - Goals for the School District)

(cf. 9121 - President)

(cf. 9122 - Secretary)

Any Board member or member of the public may request that a matter within the jurisdiction of the Board be placed on the agenda of a regular meeting. The request shall be submitted to the Superintendent or designee with supporting documents and information, if any, at least one week before the scheduled meeting date. Items submitted less than a week before the scheduled meeting date may be postponed to a later meeting in order to allow sufficient time for consideration and research of the issue.

The Board president and Superintendent shall decide whether a request is within the subject matter jurisdiction of the Board. Items not within the subject matter jurisdiction of the Board may not be placed on the agenda. In addition, before placing the item on the agenda, the Board president and Superintendent shall determine if the item is merely a request for information or whether the issue is covered by an existing policy or administrative regulation.

The Board president and Superintendent shall decide whether an agenda item is appropriate for discussion in open or closed session, and whether the item should be an action item subject to Board vote, an information item that does not require immediate action, or a consent item that is routine in nature and for which no discussion is anticipated.

Any Board action that involves borrowing $100,000 or more shall be discussed, considered, and deliberated upon as a separate item of business on the meeting agenda. (Government Code 53635.7)

(cf. 9323.2 - Actions by the Board)

All public communications with the Board are subject to requirements of relevant Board policies and administrative regulations.

(cf. 1312.1 - Complaints Concerning District Employees)

(cf. 1312.2 - Complaints Concerning Instructional Materials)

(cf. 1312.3 - Uniform Complaint Procedures)

(cf. 1312.4 - Williams Uniform Complaint Procedures)

(cf. 3320 - Claims and Actions Against the District)

(cf. 5144.1 - Suspension and Expulsion/Due Process)

Consent Agenda/Calendar

In order to promote efficient meetings, the Board may bundle a number of items and act upon them together by a single vote through the use of a consent agenda. Consent agenda items shall be items of a routine nature and items for which Board discussion is not anticipated and for which the Superintendent recommends approval.

When any Board member requests the removal of an item from the consent agenda, the item shall be removed and given individual consideration for action as a regular agenda item.

The agenda shall provide an opportunity for members of the public to comment on any consent agenda item that has not been previously considered. However, the agenda need not provide an opportunity for public comment when the consent agenda item has previously been considered at an open meeting of a committee comprised exclusively of all the Board members provided that members of the public were afforded an opportunity to comment on the item at that meeting, unless the item has been substantially changed since the committee considered it. (Government Code 54954.3)

Agenda Dissemination to Board Members

At least three days before each regular meeting, each Board member shall be provided a copy of the agenda and agenda packet, including the Superintendent or designee's report; minutes to be approved; copies of communications; reports from committees, staff, citizens, and others; and other available documents pertinent to the meeting.

When special meetings are called, the Superintendent or designee shall make every effort to distribute the agenda and supporting materials to Board members as soon as possible before the meeting.

Board members shall review agenda materials before each meeting. Individual members may confer directly with the Superintendent or designee to ask questions and/or request additional information on agenda items. However, a majority of Board members shall not directly or through intermediaries or electronic means discuss, deliberate, or take action on any matter within the subject matter jurisdiction of the Board.

(cf. 9012 - Board Member Electronic Communications)

Agenda Dissemination to Members of the Public

The Superintendent or designee shall mail a copy of the agenda or a copy of all the documents constituting the agenda packet to any person who requests the items. The materials shall be mailed at the time the agenda is posted or upon distribution of the agenda to a majority of the Board, whichever occurs first. (Government Code 54954.1)

If a document which relates to an open session agenda item of a regular Board meeting is distributed to the Board less than 72 hours prior to a meeting, the Superintendent or designee shall make the document available for public inspection at a designated location at the same time the document is distributed to all or a majority of the Board, provided the document is a public record under the Public Records Act. The Superintendent or designee may also post the document on the district's web site in a position and manner that makes it clear that the document relates to an agenda item for an upcoming meeting. (Government Code 54957.5)

(cf. 1113 - District and School Web Sites)

(cf. 1340 - Access to District Records)

Any document prepared by the district or Board and distributed during a public meeting shall be made available for public inspection at the meeting. Any document prepared by another person shall be made available for public inspection after the meeting. These requirements shall not apply to a document that is exempt from public disclosure under the Public Records Act. (Government Code 54957.5)

Upon request, the Superintendent or designee shall make the agenda, agenda packet, and/or any writings distributed at the meeting available in appropriate alternative formats to persons with a disability, as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act. (Government Code 54954.1)

Any request for mailed copies of agendas or agenda packets shall be in writing and shall be valid for the calendar year in which it is filed. Written requests must be renewed following January 1 of each year. (Government Code 54954.1)

Persons requesting mailing of the agenda or agenda packet shall pay an annual fee, as determined by the Superintendent or designee, not to exceed the cost of providing the service.

 

 

 

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