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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