Do open meetings laws apply to public school student governments?

Every week, Student Press Law Center attorneys answer a frequently asked question about student media law in “Ask SPLC.”

Q: Does the student government at my public school have to abide by my state’s open meetings laws? 

Maybe. Open meetings laws vary by state, and most courts haven’t specifically ruled on whether state open meetings laws apply to student government meetings. Generally, courts will look to factors like whether a body has been given decision-making authority or the power to allocate fees to determine whether it is a meeting of a governmental or public body. Many student body governments have the authority to set policies that will affect students and distribute student activity fees collected by the university, which may make a court inclined to rule that student government functions as an official arm of the government. Sometimes statutes even explicitly state that all bodies that are supported by or expend public money or tax revenue are covered by the open meetings laws. There are at least 19 state laws that contain that language. 

Additionally, if you’re able to trace your student government’s creation back to an official act of the university’s board of regents or some other official body of the school, that will add considerable weight to an argument that the student government is a governmental body that should abide by open meetings laws. 

If you have more specific questions about your state’s open meetings law and how it applies to student government bodies, check out our state-by-state analysis of how a court might decide the issue in your state. 

Legal questions should be directed toward SPLC’s legal hotline. Ask SPLC questions will be selected based on trends in the legal hotline. The legal hotline is confidential and no identifying information will be used in the Ask SPLC segment.