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Must a School Board Agendize an Item from a Member of the Public?

  • February 09, 2016

February 09, 2016

School districts have seen a recent increase in the number of requests from members of the public to place items on governing board agendas.  Recently, an organization requested that districts across the state place a resolution on their board agendas regarding the new immunization requirement, opening up discussion of a board’s legal obligations in this situation.  As long as the item is directly related to school district business, it should be placed on the agenda.  Where unclear, the most conservative and often the simplest approach is to place such an item on an agenda, as there is no legal requirement that a board act on or engage in a discussion regarding a specific agenda item.

The Education Code requires school districts to honor public requests to agendize items where the items “directly relate to school district business.”  (Ed. Code, § 35145.5.)  Courts have held, however, that districts have discretion to determine whether an item meets this standard.  InMooney v. Garcia (2012) 207 Cal.App.4th 229 the appellate court noted that whether a school district had agendized similar items in the past may be relevant in determining if it should agendize the requested item. (See DWK’s alert on the Mooney decision.)

If a school district receives a request for an agenda item, it should consider, among others, the following factors:

  • What do the board policies require as to the creation of the board agenda?
  • Is the item “directly related” to school district business?
  • Has the board agendized similar items or items on the same topic in the past?

The district may also want to consider the fact that failure to place an item on the agenda could lead to litigation and that, even where an item is placed on a board agenda, nothing in the Education Code or the Brown Act mandates that the item be agendized for action or that the board engage in any discussion of the issue.  Furthermore, members of the public always have the right to directly address the board on matters of public interest that are within their jurisdiction, whether an item is agendized or not.

Applied to the recent request from A Voice for Choice Advocacy that districts agendize a resolution regarding the immunization requirements, the above factors may lead districts to different conclusions.  One factor, however, which may be particularly relevant as to this request would be if the board has adopted other resolutions urging action from the Legislature on issues related to educational policy.  Such prior resolutions might suggest that the board has considered urging legislative action to be a matter of school district business.   Again, however, even if the resolution is placed on a board agenda, discussion and/or formal action is not required.

DWK’s Board Ethics, Transparency, and Accountability (BETA) group is available to assist your district with school governance questions.  Please contact us if we can be of assistance.

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