BEHIND THE STORY | When is a public meeting not public?

On June 12, I attended a listening session of the St. Paul Public Schools. There was a bit of a hullabaloo when I came to the meeting. After I told the staff member taking names that I was a reporter, I was directed to speak with Tyrize Cox, Director of the SPPS Office of Family Engagement and Community Partnerships and the facilitator for the evening, and Michelle Walker, Chief Academic Officer for the district. While they didn’t tell me I couldn’t attend the meeting, they questioned why I would be there, saying that it wasn’t a real school board meeting but an informal listening session with a few of the board members. They asked if I would be writing an article and I said that most likely, yes I would be writing something and that I was legally allowed to attend under the open meeting law. 

Once inside the meeting, some parents also raised objections about me being there and I explained that board member Keith Hardy had let my editor know about the meeting, and that I had wanted to attend because of my recent writing about the racial equity work in the district. After having me wait in the hall for perhaps 20 minutes, I was allowed back in. At the end of the meeting, Hardy apologized to the group for inviting the TC Daily Planet and not encouraging us to go through “the proper channels." 

This isn't the first time that I've had school officials try to keep me from attending a public meeting. A little more than a year ago, in Minneapolis, then-associate superintendent Theresa Battles told me I couldn't attend a site council meeting — another meeting that clearly falls under Minnesota's open meeting statute. (Battles now works for SPPS.) While I had been invited to that meeting by parents, Battles said that I needed "permission" from Stan Alleyne, the district’s communications director, to attend the meeting.

Minnesota's Open Meetings law says that all meetings of government bodies, specifically including meetings of the governing body of "a school district however organized," are open to the public. No one needs permission to attend.

Obviously, not every member of the public can attend all meetings. That's where the media comes in. It's our job to help keep the public informed about what the government — including school districts — is doing.

 

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  • Good for you. Reporters are usually most needed where they are least wanted. - by Alan Muller on Sun, 06/15/2014 - 11:47pm
  • I like the tone of this piece. It's restrained when it could have been angry. The restraint actually has the effect oif sharpening the message. Good job. - by Ron Salzberger on Mon, 06/16/2014 - 9:11am
  • Thank you for going. Thank you for all of the reporting you've done this year. I feel like I've gotten great information about meetings I couldn't attend from you. Keep up the great work! - by Mary Quinn Mccallum on Mon, 06/16/2014 - 9:13am
  • Go Sheila Regan, go! - by Susannah McNeely Schouweiler on Sun, 06/15/2014 - 9:24pm
  • An uniformed public is a controlled public. Thank you for being willing to stand your ground. I don't think I would have gone out into the hall, but I trust your judgement. You were there, I wasn't. Thank goodness you were there. A lot of stupid things happen at seemingly small innocuous meetings that aren't import. Keeping them open to scrutiny keeps them more honest. Thank you again for all your efforts. It may sound overstated, but it's true, you are helping save Democracy. - by Don MacLeod on Mon, 06/16/2014 - 3:53pm
  • Keep at super trooper. Open meetings means open. The bureaucracy often has misplaced brain. - by Bill Sorem on Sun, 06/15/2014 - 9:39pm
  • What does it mean when school boards pay people to prevent people from reporting and/ or control the message that gets reported ? Furthermore how much is spent on these media manipulators from the budgets ? Any money is is too much in my opinion. Not sure the reason the citizenry does not seem to be outraged. I certainly hope that people are conditioned by repeated outlandishness they just accept this Bs. Oh I forgot there are the teachers to blame. - by Joe Musich on Mon, 06/16/2014 - 6:52pm
  • Good work, Sheila! - by Lynnell Mickelsen on Tue, 06/17/2014 - 8:25am
  • I have no problem with you pushing to attend this meeting and write about this issue, but your citation of the Open Meeting Law isn't the whole story. This session wouldn't qualify as a "meeting" so the law doesn't apply here. A quorum of the SB wasn't there so no official business could be conducted. It was an informal listening session, as they said. You are aware that your presence likely changed what was said at the session, right? Like most things, there is a trade-off here between the general public's right to know and honest communication between a specific group of the public and SPPS. - by Mark Erickson on Thu, 06/19/2014 - 10:58am
  • Go Sheila Regan, go! - by Susannah McNeely Schouweiler on Sun, 06/15/2014 - 9:24pm

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Sheila Regan's picture
Sheila Regan

Sheila Regan (sheila [at] tcdailyplanet [dot] net) is a Minneapolis theater artist and freelance writer.

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Thank you Sheila for your

Thank you Sheila for your persistence...we need you!