Q&A: School board executive session

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From The Rochester Sentinel:

Q: A school board announced its intention to hold an executive session under IC 5-14-1.5-6.1(b)(6) to discuss the possible misconduct of an employee. The person in question, the school treasurer, is dead – apparently a suicide. Would the executive session be proper under the Open Door Law? 

A: No. The statute cited starts with the limitation: “With respect to any individual over whom the governing body has jurisdiction …” The connection between the school district and the individual was broken with the individual’s death.

This provision was added to allow governing bodies to investigate allegations of misconduct behind closed doors to prevent the tainting of an employee’s reputation by making the claim public before determining whether the allegation has validity.

With the death of the school treasurer, the school board’s discussion no longer centers on whether she embezzled funds, for instance; the discussion focuses on where money is missing, how much, and whether the loss is covered by insurance.

The death means no discussion as to the future status of an individual as an employee, which the provision in question allows.

You may want to suggest the school board contact Indiana Public Access Counselor Joe Hoage for confirmation of this before members hold an illegal meeting.

Contact Steve Key, HSPA executive director and general counsel, with media law questions at skey@hspa.com or (317) 624-4427.

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