Written by: Brian J. DeSantis, Esq.
Governor DeWine signed legislation (HB 51) re-establishing the authority for boards of education to hold virtual meetings. This authority begins immediately and continues until June 30, 2022. To conduct virtual meetings, boards must comply with specific notice requirements. Additionally, boards will need to review their bylaws, policies, and resolutions to determine whether they must be modified to permit virtual meetings.
On February 17, 2022, Governor DeWine signed HB 51 into law, which permits boards of education to hold virtual meetings until June 30, 2022. HB 51 contains an emergency clause, which made the law effective immediately upon the Governor’s signature. As school districts will remember, the General Assembly previously authorized virtual meetings—for limited periods—under prior legislation (HB 404 and HB 197).
Local Rules Regarding Virtual Meetings
Although HB 51 permits virtual meetings, your board’s authority to hold virtual meetings may be limited or prohibited by your board’s own bylaws and policies. Therefore, it is prudent to review those policies and bylaws. Additionally, some boards temporarily permitted virtual meetings under prior legislation (HB 404 and HB 197). You will want to review whether your board needs to reauthorize that authority through an amended policy or resolution.
HB 51 Requirements
Assuming there are no local restrictions, boards that hold virtual meetings will need to comply with several specified requirements in HB 51. Again, these requirements will be familiar to districts as they mirror the requirements from prior legislation that similarly authorized virtual meetings.
- Providing Public Notice
HB 51 requires boards to provide notice that meetings will be conducted electronically. As with prior legislation, boards must provide this notice to the public, the media (that have requested notification), and any party required to be notified of a hearing (e.g., an employee facing termination). This notice must be provided at least 24 hours before the meeting and “by reasonable methods” so that any person may determine the time, location, and manner by which the meeting or hearing will be conducted. The 24-hour requirement does not apply to a meeting “in the event of an emergency requiring immediate official.” For these emergency meetings, the notice must be provided immediately upon scheduling the meeting.
- Public Access View of the Board Meeting
Like prior legislation, HB 51 requires boards to provide public access to the meeting in accordance with the method by which the meeting is conducted. Boards have discretion regarding the technology they want to use. Regardless of how access is provided, boards must ensure that the public can observe and hear the discussions and deliberations of all the board members.
- Executive Sessions
Like prior legislation, HB 51 does not waive or provide any greater rights to enter executive session than those that currently exist in RC 121.22(G). Therefore, boards wishing to enter executive session must still comply with the current rules governing such sessions. In addition, boards wishing to enter executive session should ensure that the technology they are using allows them to separate from the public while in executive session.
- Public Participation
Neither HB 51 nor the Open Meetings Act require boards to provide the public with an opportunity to comment at its meetings; instead, the laws only guarantee the right to observe a meeting. Therefore, check your board’s policy regarding public participation at board meetings, including how to suspend such participation if you wish to do so for your electronic meetings.
If you still wish to provide public participation, then you will want to ensure that public participation can be completed online. Many boards have adopted policies that require participants to provide advance notice of their topic, name, and address. Other boards have adopted policies that merely require a participant to sign in at the beginning of the meeting.
Contact board counsel if you have additional questions regarding your board’s authority to conduct meetings virtually.