January 18, 2015 by realrenewal
The increasing use of closed session for Regina Board of Education meetings is leaving parents in the dark.
In the past, board meetings went into closed session primarily to discuss legal and personnel issues—but even then, a detailed report on closed session decisions was recorded in the minutes. Today, closed session has become the norm for nearly any item of public interest, with no written report. Committee reports, enrolment data, budget discussions and facilities planning are now routinely discussed behind closed doors. Recently, even a presentation from a member of the public was placed in closed session for no clear reason.
Although policy requires the board to explain why it is going into closed session, the practice has become to simply announce, “Now ends the public portion of our meeting.” Confounding the problem, trustees are legally prohibited from sharing anything that is discussed in closed session. This means the people elected to represent the public are censored from informing parents and ratepayers about the bulk of what is discussed and decided on in public school board meetings. Internal correspondence reveals a culture of secrecy around information that should rightfully be public, or at least shared with affected school communities.
A comparison of sample closed session minutes from 2007 and 2013 shows how reporting has changed, while randomly selected agendas from 2013 and 2014 illustrate how pervasive the use of closed session has become.
This situation leaves the public with little recourse but to file freedom of information requests in an attempt to find out what is being discussed behind closed doors, a lengthy and expensive process. Last year the board presented school parents with a $2,500 bill for copies of meeting notes and correspondence related to Connaught school, an amount the Information and Privacy Commissioner investigated and found was unjustified.