The New Jersey School Boards Association has recently received inquiries regarding the possibility of board of education members participating in board meetings remotely.
The Association’s sample policy 9322, “Public and Executive Sessions,” which includes an optional section on “Electronic Participation in Meetings” can be useful to boards with this question.
While the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA), also known as the “Sunshine Law,” does not specifically address teleconferencing, it does mention that meetings include “any gathering whether corporeal or by means of communication equipment,…to discuss or act as a unit upon specific public business of that body.” With a lack of clear guidance for boards of education on that issue, having a formal policy authorizing the use of speakerphone or video teleconference technologies clarifies what a board believes about teleconferencing and the conditions under which it will be permitted.
There are several issues that a board should consider when drafting a teleconferencing policy, including how much notice a board must give, permissible reasons for remote participation, how often a board member may participate in this manner, whether a quorum of the board may participate remotely, and whether a board should permit members to participate in closed, or executive session. Some districts prohibit remote participation in closed sessions, as it could be difficult to guarantee that no other person, other than the board member, is able to hear, see, or otherwise participate in the closed session from the remote location.
A more detailed article on the topic appeared in the Jan. 30, 2018 issue of School Board Notes. Boards should also consult with their board attorney in adopting a policy on remote participation in meetings.