Expanded Open Meetings Lawsuit Filed Against Barrington School Committee
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
The Rhode Island ACLU and The Barrington Times have today filed new claims in a pending lawsuit against the Barrington School Committee, alleging additional and repeated Open Meetings Act (OMA) violations.
The original suit, filed last month, challenged the school committee for unlawfully meeting in closed session this past February to discuss the merits of instituting a mandatory breathalyzer policy for all students attending school dances. In the amended lawsuit filed today by RI ACLU cooperating attorneys Howard Merten and Keith Fayan of Partridge Snow & Hahn, LLP, the ACLU and the Times further charge that the school committee, by using “vague boilerplate terminology, … routinely fails to specify the nature of the business to be discussed on public agendas,” and has also failed to provide adequate public notice of some of its meetings.
Many of the school committee’s agendas contain such items as “Discussion [of] School Committee Policies,” without providing any specificity of the actual policies that might be discussed at the meeting. As a result, the suit claims, “any particular agenda is often indistinguishable from the next with regard to the discussion of school department policies.” The suit includes as an appendix copies of agendas from other school committees in the state that provide specific information about their agenda items as the OMA requires. The OMA also requires public bodies to submit in advance notices of meetings to a Secretary of State website. However, the amended suit also claims that, on at least a few occasions, Barrington school committee agendas were not posted on that website.
As with the complaint filed last month, the suit seeks a court order declaring that the school committee’s actions violate the OMA, an award of attorneys’ fees and imposition of a fine against the school committee for violating the law. The amended complaint further seeks a court order requiring the school committee to comply with the OMA’s requirements governing the specificity of agendas and the advance posting of meeting notices with the Secretary of State.
Scott Pickering, managing editor of East Bay Newspapers, said today: “I don’t believe the school committee is acting maliciously or deliberately in these cases, but the net effect of these vague agendas is that the public is never fully informed of what they will be talking about and when. It’s an indirect way of shutting out the public from the important business of public education in Barrington.” RI ACLU volunteer attorney Merten added: “The whole purpose of requiring public bodies to provide notice is to let the public know ahead of time just what business and issues will be addressed at their meetings. The Barrington School Committee agendas, with their cookie-cutter notices, utterly fail to do that. The law requires that notices actually inform the public of the specific nature of the business to be conducted. This lawsuit is intended to enforce that common sense statutory requirement.”
Every month, you'll receive regular roundups of the most important civil rights and civil liberties developments. Remember: a well-informed citizenry is the best defense against tyranny.
The Latest in National Security
ACLU Acknowledges Improvements to DOJ Racial Profiling Policy, But Says Far More is Needed
ACLU Applauds Court For Allowing Case Challenging FBI’s Wrongful Prosecution of Chinese American Physics Professor To Move Forward
Shen v. Simpson
Chinese Immigrants Sue Florida Over Unconstitutional and Discriminatory Law Banning Them From Buying Land
The American Civil Liberties Union is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States of America.
Learn More About National Security
The ACLU’s National Security Project is dedicated to ensuring that U.S. national security policies and practices are consistent with the Constitution, civil liberties, and human rights.