The Columbus Board of Education and other district officials have gone into super-secret mode since news broke in June that employees have altered millions of attendance records.
The board has closed meetings under a novel and untested legal theory, and district officials have found questionable ways to deny access to public records. Some experts say the district is stretching the law, if not breaking it, when it comes to Ohio’s requirement to conduct public business in public.
Three experts on Ohio’s Open Meetings Act say the explanation that the board has used to close meetings and keep information from the public is legally suspect at best and blatantly illegal at worst.
The school board has closed public meetings repeatedly to talk with a private attorney, Robert “ Buzz” Trafford, concerning unspecified topics related to data-rigging allegations. The district says it is closing the meetings to discuss “matters required to be kept confidential by federal law or regulations or state statutes.”
Pressed to explain, the attorney said the board is closing meetings for reasons of “ attorney-client privilege.” However, a state appeals court ruling on this issue did not include attorney-client privilege as an exception. And the experts say it isn’t an exception allowed under the Ohio Open Meetings law.Individuals have the right to meet with an attorney in private, and public bodies have the right to keep certain legal documents private, but experts say the open-meetings law does not give public bodies the blanket right to a closed meeting anytime they want to talk with a lawyer.
Yet the Columbus Board of Education has used that excuse to close five meetings since Aug. 7.