U-CF School Board president answers query about Sunshine Law and board retreat
By J. Chambless
By John Chambless
On May 10, a Chadds Ford resident emailed a letter to the Unionville-Chadds Ford School Board members and copied it to local media outlets, expressing concern about a planned board retreat.
In the letter, Mark Stookey wrote to school board president Victor Dupuis, “While attending last night's work session, I was disturbed to learn that you are planning to call, prior to September 1, a Board 'retreat' for the purpose of, among other things (1) discussing 'Board goals,' (2) discussing 'District goals,' and (3) determining how and whether to proceed with a strategic planning process for the district.
“As you know, the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act requires that 'official action and deliberations by a quorum of the members of an agency shall take place at a meeting open to the public.' It would seem to me that such a meeting would violate the spirit, and probably the letter, of the Sunshine Act.
“If you decide to call such a non-public meeting, I would hope that the other members of the Board would decline to attend, given that such a meeting would directly conflict with the District's oft-stated positions advocating transparency and public participation,” Stookey wrote.
On the morning of May 11, Dupuis responded to Stookey, also copying his letter to local media outlets.
“You may not be aware that there is significant legal precedent under the Sunshine Act for board retreats,” he wrote to Stookey. “While school boards are required by law to deliberate on items that they will be voting on in a public meeting, boards are permitted to have discussions about general district policy and direction, goal setting, and other board matters in a closed – door retreat.
“This is not new, nor is it in anyway controversial,” Dupuis continued. “While care needs to be taken to ensure that all aspects of the board retreat do not violate Sunshine Act requirements for public discussion, there is plenty of room for non-deliberative conversations in a private setting.
“Your choice of audience for this email suggests that you are seeking to make this a point of contention with local media sources, rather than simply expressing your concerns to the Board,” Dupuis added. “So, to be clear to everyone, as has been our practice for several years, we will have a board retreat, and it will be a productive, non-deliberative discussion.”
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