Interest in Needham School Committee meetings has increased dramatically as the district works towards reopening schools amid the Covid-19 health crisis. Some parents have expressed frustration at the lack of information provided or opportunity to ask questions at these meetings, so CNS thought it would be helpful to provide some information about School Committee procedures, policies, and the Massachusetts Open Meeting Law.
The Needham School Committee is required by Massachusetts state law to make their discussions and deliberations open to the public to observe. But it is important to understand that these School Committee meetings are not forums for the public to ask questions or engage in discussion. The law states that:
Notice of the meeting must be provided at least 48 hours in advance (excluding weekends and holidays), and must include the date, time, and agenda for the meeting. Residents can sign up to receive notifications from the Public Meetings Calendar (scroll down to "Calendar > Public Meeting Calendar"). They are also posted on the town website, and at Town Hall.
The meeting must be held in a location that is open and accessible to the public. There is currently an emergency order in place allowing meeting participants and members of the public to access the meeting remotely.
Minutes and materials discussed in the meeting must be part of the official record of the session, but they are not required to be publicly posted prior to the meeting. While the meeting packet is posted shortly before the meeting, it sometimes does not contain all of the documents or materials discussed at the meeting. These are typically added after the meeting. Minutes of previous meetings are posted on the district website.
School Committee meetings are conducted more formally than an open house or other informational forums. The School Committee Chair determines who speaks, and can also request silence as needed.
While Open Meeting Law only requires that the public be allowed observe these meetings, the Needham School Committee has a Policy on Public Participation in School Committee Meetings to accommodate public comments at the beginning of each regular School Committee Meeting. As outlined in the policy:
The public comments portion of the meeting is generally not to exceed 10 minutes
Those planning to speak should notify the SC Chair in advance — this is not required, but helpful because those who have given prior notice of their desire to speak will be recognized first by the Chair. Others will be recognized at the Chair’s discretion, time permitting.
Speakers are limited to three minutes.
The public comment period is not a time for debate or response from the School Committee.
The School Committee also has a Policy on School-Community Relations that affirms its intentions to keep the community informed, to solicit community input and participation, and to encourage and give full and thoughtful consideration to community advice and counsel. The School Committee and Superintendent welcome and encourage parent questions and feedback. They strive to acknowledge emails within 24-48 hours, regularly schedule Open Houses and information sessions, hold public hearings on budget matters, and maintain an up-to-date district and School Committee website.
Citizens for Needham Schools works to foster the exchanges of information and ideas about Needham Schools, in part by providing summaries of every school committee meeting to the public. Please like our Facebook page, follow us on Twitter, and sign up for our newsletter to stay informed.