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.
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.