BEDFORD — North Lawrence Community Schools is appealing the ruling of the state’s public access counselor that it violated the state’s Open Door Law.
The school corporation filed a petition for judicial review in Lawrence Circuit Court last week to request that the court review the advisory opinion of Luke Britt, the Indiana Public Access Counselor. On Jan. 7, Britt issued a nine-page opinion that NLCS violated the Indiana Open Door Law.
He wrote that a committee’s closed door meetings concerning school consolidation were a violation. The original complaint was filed Nov. 19 by Jason E. Johnson of Springville. He alleged the corporation had violated Indiana’s Open Door Law by not disclosing to the public the names of visionary committee members as well as the time and location of committee meetings. The visionary committee was formed as the corporation explored school consolidation; its members were selected by the school superintendent.
Greg Pittman, attorney for the corporation, said Indiana code allows for a judicial review of an agency action that is unsupported by substantial evidence and/or contrary to law.
“I believe the opinion is unsupported by substantial evidence and is contrary to law,” said Pittman in a news release.
Pittman listed numerous examples in the PAC’s opinion that are not supported by evidence.
One sticking point in the case is whether the the corporation's Visionary Committee constituted a “governing body.” Britt, in his opinion, contended it was.
Pittman, in the the corporation’s Dec. 11 response to Johnson’s complaint, wrote that the visionary committee was not a governing body because it was not directly appointed by the school board or the board’s presiding officer, according to Indiana Code.
In the petition, Pittman cited an entry from the public access counselor’s handbook to assist in determining if a committee appointed by a superintendent is a “governing body.”
“Example 3: A curriculum committee, appointed by a school superintendent, who is to report its findings to the school board, is not subject to the ODL because the superintendent is not the presiding officer of the school board. The same committee appointed by the school board president, however, would be subject to the ODL. I.C. § 5-14-1.5-2(b).”
“It is difficult to reconcile the PAC’s example with the PAC’s opinion in our case,” said Pittman. “For that reason, and the other reasons set forth in the petition, we are seeking judicial review.”
The Visionary Committee formed last August and met eight times. From those meetings, three consolidation plans were presented for consideration to the corporation. Those plans were presented to the public at a community forum Nov. 14.
The intent of the Open Door Law is to ensure public agencies conduct business and take action openly, unless otherwise expressly provided by statute, so that the people may be fully informed.