Refresher needed

By Jayson Jacoby, The Baker City Herald

The Baker School Board needs a refresher course on Oregon's Public Meetings law.

We're convinced that the board ran afoul of the law Monday afternoon.

Specifically, the board excluded two reporters from the Baker City Herald from attending the portion of the meeting when a teacher, who has filed a grievance against the district, met with the board.

(The teacher filed the grievance after being reassigned. The Herald has

requested a copy of the grievance and plans to pursue a news story

about the matter. The Herald will name the teacher in the story.)

Here's what the law says:

Whenever a quorum of a public body, such as the school board, convenes

to discuss any matter under its jurisdiction, the result is a public


A quorum of the Baker School Board was present during Monday's meeting.

In most cases, public meetings, as the name implies, are open to anybody who wants to attend.

The law does allow public bodies to meet privately, in what's known as an executive session, to discuss certain topics.

However, members of the news media are allowed to attend executive sessions.

Journalists are not supposed to report on discussions that take place

during executive sessions, but rather to use the information to guide

their reporting on the matter. The idea, and it is a good one, is that

public bodies should not be allowed to discuss matters of public

importance in complete secrecy.

The public meetings law includes only two exceptions to the news media's right to attend executive sessions.

One exception is when the public body meets with people who it has designated to negotiate labor contracts.

The other exception is when a public body discusses the possible

expulsion of a student, or matters related to a student's confidential

medical records.

The topic during Monday's school board meeting - the grievance -

doesn't meet either of those exceptions, said Jack Orchard, a Portland

attorney who advises the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association on

issues involving the state's public meetings and public records laws.

The school board, to its credit, had intended to hear the grievance during a part of the meeting open to the public.

But the teacher asked to meet with the board in private, said Dan Van Thiel, the school district's attorney.

That's understandable.

But Oregon's public meeting law supersedes the request for privacy.

Moreover, the law does not entitle the school board to bar the news

media from attending any part of Monday's meeting.

The Baker City Herald
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