Are a citizen's First Amendment rights violated when a board chair insists that complaints about personnel be made in executive session?

Answer provided by Rebekah Jacobson , OSBA Staff Attorney...

In most cases, no. The Public Meetings Law only guarantees the public a right to monitor the school board meetings; it does not grant members of the public the right to interact with the school board during those meetings. Further, if the school board does allow public comments, it can impose procedural restrictions, including the requirement that the citizen comply with the District's complaint procedure.

The Board must follow District policy in hearing these personnel complaints or risk violating its public complaint policy, the Superintendent's contract and/or the District's collective bargaining agreement. In addition, the District should go into executive session to hear complaints against personnel that have been appropriately brought to the board. It should give the school employee notice of the executive session, the opportunity to bring legal representation and the option to have the complaint heard in open session. ORS 192.660(2)(b).

Per the Oregon Attorney General's Public Records and Meetings Manual "Free expression of opinion may not be exercised in an untrammeled fashion wherever and whenever and in whatever manner a person chooses, even on public property. Rules that relate to the order and decorum of public bodies, limitations on time allowed for persons to make presentations, requirements that no one may have the floor without securing permission from a presiding officer, and specific prohibitions against disturbing or disrupting a meeting are not uncommon. Conduct violating such rules provides grounds for ejecting persons from meetings or premises of public bodies." (Letter of Advice (OP-5468), July 13, 1983)

For more information on this question, Ask Betsy's Team.