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State of Maryland Open Meetings Compliance Board
15 Official Opinions of the Compliance Board 136 (2021)
October 27, 2021
Board of Education of Carroll County
The Complainants allege that a recent closed meeting of the Board of Education of Carroll County (“Carroll County School Board” or “Board”) violated the Open Meetings Act (“Act”). For the reasons that follow, we conclude that the Board violated the Act by failing to provide reasonable advance notice of the meeting, by not allowing the public an opportunity to object to the closure of the meeting, and by exceeding the scope of discussions allowed in a closed session.
On Wednesday, August 25, 2021, the Maryland State Board of Education (“State Board”) announced that it would have a special meeting at 3 p.m. the next day to discuss “statewide school masking requirements.”1 Shortly after 10 a.m. on Thursday, August 26, 2021, the Carroll County School Board issued the following press release via email to notify various media outlets that it would meet in closed session at 6 p.m. to consult with counsel:
CLOSED SESSION Thursday, August 26, 2021
The Board of Education of Carroll County will meet in closed session at 6:00 p.m. on Thursday, August 26, 2021, as permitted by the Maryland Open Meetings Act, Section 3-305(b) of the General Provisions Article of the Annotated Code of Maryland and Section 3-103 of the General Provision Articles [sic] of the Annotated Code of Maryland, to consult with legal counsel.
From the submissions, it appears that the emailed press release was the only notice the Board provided. At 3 p.m., the State Board convened and adopted an emergency regulation requiring masks in Maryland schools to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.2 At 6:03 p.m., the Carroll County School Board convened and a member moved to enter closed session. The Board prepared a closing statement indicating that the purpose of the closed session was to obtain legal advice about the mask mandate. Board members voted unanimously to close the meeting, which lasted nearly two hours.
There are pages and pages of “discussion” items released (see link below)
We conclude that the Carroll County School Board violated the Act by failing to provide reasonable advance notice of its August 26, 2021 meeting, by not allowing the public to object to the closure of the meeting, and by engaging in a closed session discussion that exceeded the scope of the legal advice exception. See §§ 3-302, 3- 305(b)(7), 3-305(d). This Opinion is subject to the acknowledgment requirement set forth in § 3-211.
See the full details: Open PDF HERE
The next scheduled Board of Education meeting in Carroll County will be Wednesday, November 10, 2021. I will see if this OMA violation is noted in that meeting.