The Grant School Board discussed planning, policies and staffing during a questionable executive session behind closed doors Thursday.
The school board had announced a special meeting open to the public to take place Thursday evening to discuss requirements for returning to school, including Gov. Kate Brown’s recent order that all educators, school staff and volunteers get vaccinated by Oct. 18 or six weeks after full FDA approval of vaccines, whichever is later.
Seven hours before the meeting, however, the district announced the meeting was canceled and replaced with a closed-door executive session for “review of confidential information.”
During the closed-door session, the school board discussed policies, planning and staffing, which are not typically authorized to be discussed in executive session. The Eagle is currently withholding this information from publication at the behest of Superintendent Bret Uptmor.
Oregon law permits executive sessions — where the public is barred and reporters are instructed not to report on the proceedings — only in specific situations. The school board cited ORS 192.660(2)(f): “to consider information or records that are exempt by law from public inspection.”
An executive session checklist included as an appendix to the Attorney General’s Public Records and Meetings Manual 2014 states, “If you discuss matters other than what you announce you are going to discuss in the executive session, the media may report those additional matters.”
After the Eagle informed Uptmor and board chair Haley Walker the meeting may have violated Oregon’s public meetings laws, Uptmor told the Eagle to “cease and desist from printing any information from the executive session.”
“The board went into executive session to discuss legal advice from its attorney related to liability risks related to compliance with the governor’s orders,” Uptmor said. “It also had a second basis of discussion (of) confidential medical information related to its employees as it related to the governor’s vaccination mandate.”
During the executive session, however, a board member stated they had not received legal advice from their attorney yet, and very little of the discussion concerned medical information.
Oregon Administrative Rules pertaining to executive sessions state, “The topic(s) discussed in an executive session must be limited to those topics expressly permitted by the specific provision(s) under which the executive session was convened. Members of governing bodies may not discuss topics in executive session other than those delineated in ORS 192.660 or other state law permitting an executive session, even if the additional topics are related to the issue concerning which the governing body convened the executive session.”
Board member Aaron Lieuallen told the board during the session that he thought they should have held a short public meeting to discuss the board’s decision to move forward with in-person classes, rather than holding an executive session.
Walker told Lieuallen that she and Uptmor discussed having a meeting but decided they did not want to put the board and administrators through a second meeting where they were unable to provide information about the governor’s mandate.
“My hope is that we can come out of this meeting and share all the information that we have related to school starting Monday,” she said.
She said she wanted to share with the public that the district would be compliant with the mask mandate, and they are excited to come back for in-person classes and work through the details of the new vaccine mandate.
The Eagle has reached out to the Oregon Government Ethics Commission for an independent opinion on whether the executive session was authorized.