As the state of emergency has lifted and life is beginning to get back to normal, public meetings have reverted to pre-pandemic guidelines. For example, the Ohio legislature did not extend or make permanent a public board’s ability to conduct meetings in a virtual landscape. 

Initially, HB 197 allowed public meetings to be conducted and attended by members via teleconference, video conference, or any other similar electronic technology through December 1, 2020.  The ability to conduct and attend meetings in this fashion was extended by the legislature in HB 404. Unfortunately, it was not extended any further than July 1, 2021. 

Although the ability to hold meetings with all or some members participating virtually has expired, there is still an option for board members who cannot attend meetings in person. A school board could allow an individual board member (or two) to participate via conference call or videoconference as long as there is a quorum of other board members physically present at the meeting. Such participation would be limited to listening to and participating in the board’s discussions. A board member who participates via electronic means may not be counted for quorum purposes or vote. Having become accustomed to voting in virtual meetings over the past year, this may be the most challenging aspect to become adjusted to.  

Remember that certain items before the board may need more than a majority vote. Please use OSBA’s  “Voting makes a difference” fact sheet to assist in those occurrences. This may be an issue if board members are attending remotely and not able to vote. The board will need to determine how to have sufficient board members present for voting purposes on these matters. 

This non-extension of virtual meetings will have policy implications as well. A board that allows its members to participate remotely should include language in its board policy to reflect this choice and clarify that board members who participate remotely may not vote at the meeting and will not be counted for purposes of determining whether a quorum is present. 

As always, the OSBA division of legal services continues to monitor the legal landscape and will post information as it becomes available. If you have questions, please contact the division at 1-855-OSBA-LAW.

Posted by Ralph Lusher III on 7/9/2021