Originally appeared in the CAS Weekly NewsBlast. Written by Attorney Thomas B. Mooney.
Dear Legal Mailbag:
Have you noticed that parents increasingly have boundary issues as to what is their business and what is not? I have, and I need your help.
One of the parents in my school is actually a certified teacher, and she has announced that she will be attending faculty meetings at my school. The irony is delicious, of course, because I never before met a teacher who wanted to attend a faculty meeting. But this parent has claimed that she has the right to attend my meetings. Moreover, this parent labors under the misapprehension that we all wait breathlessly for her pronouncements, and I can only imagine how she will hijack the meeting and waste our precious time with her silly questions and inane comments.
Her claim is that the Freedom of Information Act provides that “‘Meeting’ means any hearing or other proceeding of a public agency…” and that as a “public official” under the FOIA, I am a “public agency.” Given all that, which I do not pretend to understand, she claims that faculty meetings at my school are public meetings that she has the right to attend. I certainly hope that you can tell me why she is wrong.
Just Let Me Do My Job
I can indeed. In the words of poet Alexander Pope, “a little learning is a dangerous thing,” and those words are as true now as they were when Pope wrote them in 1709. Here, the parent has read only part of the definition of a “meeting” under the FOIA. Significantly, the FOIA goes on to exclude “an administrative or staff meeting of a single-member public agency” from the definition of “meeting.” (More about whether you are indeed a “single-member public agency” below.) Thus, you can point to this express exclusion of staff meetings from the FOIA definition of meeting in denying her request. Moreover, staff meetings are not subject to other FOIA requirements for “meetings,” such as posting, minutes, and the whole nine yards.
Whether you as a principal should be considered a “public agency” subject to the FOIA more generally is an open question under Connecticut law. Specifically, the FOIA applies to “public agencies,” and it defines a “public agency” as including “an official of…any…school district.” As a building principal, are you an “official” of your school district? Who knows? The Freedom of Information Commission has ruled that superintendents and assistant superintendents are public officials (and thus their meetings, and those of committees that they have created, are public meetings under the FOIA). Furthermore, the Commission has ruled that teachers, as such, are not public officials, and thus their records (including lesson plans) are not subject to the FOIA. We simply don’t know, however, where to draw the line in-between in defining who is or is not a “public official.”
In this case, you can direct the parent to the statutory exclusion for staff meetings and politely tell her that she will not be permitted to attend faculty meetings. More generally, I can only suggest that you do your best to be charming, given the uncertainty on whether and how the FOIA applies to your position as principal.
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