Can school boards require registration to online meetings?

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

Q: Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, our community is practicing social distancing, so school board meetings are now held via videoconference. Our administration requires anyone who wants to attend a meeting to complete a registration form, which is then used to determine who gets to participate. This isn’t just entering a password to access the videoconference call. Is it legal for the school administration to enforce this requirement?

A: If school board meetings continue to occur during the pandemic, being able to freely access to them should not change. Adding special attendance requirements during this time, such as completing a registration form, is likely illegal. You have a right to be present, though it is possible you have to exercise that right virtually using technology. But COVID-19 cannot be cited as an excuse to stop you from attending a meeting otherwise protected by your state’s open meetings law. Check out what your state law says in the Open Government Guide, a handy resource from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. In California, for example, the Bagley-Keene Act and Brown Act prohibit attendance to be conditioned on registering for the meeting, filling out a questionnaire, signing an attendance list, or providing other information — doing so is purely voluntary.

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