Are Your Administrative Guidelines in Violation of the Open Meetings Act?

One area commonly addressed by board policies and administrative guidelines is student discipline procedures, includ­ing suspension and expulsion hearings. Many schools, however, have administrative guidelines for student suspension and disci­pline hearings that violate Section 7(2) of the Open Meetings Act (OMA). These problematic guidelines state that a student has a right to receive a transcript of a student discipline hearing upon a parent’s or the student’s request, regardless of whether the hearing occurred in an open session.

Section 7(2) of the OMA provides the requirements for closed session minutes, including that “minutes shall be retained by the clerk of the public body, are not available to the public, and shall only be disclosed if required by a civil action . . . .” MCL 15.267(2). The Michigan Court of Appeals noted that Section 7(2) prohibits transcripts of closed sessions from being disclosed without a court order. Titus v Shelby Charter Twp, 226 Mich App 611 (1997). In Titus, the township trustees heard testimony in closed session re­lating to a police officer’s discharge. The testimony was taped and transcripts were created. The police officer demanded that the township turn over the tape recordings and transcripts. The town­ship denied the request, asserting that the information constituted part of the minutes exempt from disclosure under Section 7(2). The Court of Appeals agreed, stating: “The plain and ordinary meaning of minutes of a meeting refers to the official record of the proceed­ings at a group’s meeting. Because the transcript including board member dialogue was part of the ‘official record,’ it was properly deemed part of the minutes and not subject to disclosure.”

In light of the Titus decision, a school board violates the OMA if it releases a copy of a closed session hearing transcript (e.g., to a student or parent). A public official (including a board member or administrator) who discloses a closed session transcript commits a serious offense:  a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of not more than $1,000 and a second time offender “within the same term” would be guilty of a misdemeanor and fined up to $2,000 or imprisoned for up to a year.

School officials should review administrative guidelines to ensure that they comply with the OMA.