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98-IB12: FOIA Complaint: Woodbridge School District

Written on: November 10th, 1998 in 10001 Declaration of Policy

November 10, 1998
Civil Division – Kent County (739-7641)

Mr. Milton F. Morozowich
R.D. 2, Box 166
Bridgeville, DE 19933

RE: Freedom of Information Act Complaint
Against Woodbridge School District

Dear Mr. Morozowich:

This is our written determination in response to your letter of
September 23, 1998 alleging that the Woodbridge School District
(the “School District”) violated the Freedom of Information Act,
29 Del. C. Sections 10001-10005 (“FOIA”).

You claim that the School District violated the open meeting
requirements of FOIA by: (1) holding a public meeting on
September 17, 1998 at a place which could not accommodate the
members of the public who wanted to attend; (2) continuing to
meet and discuss public business after some members of the public
had been directed elsewhere; and (3) by meeting privately with
the Band Director after the public meeting.

By letter dated September 30, 1998 we asked the School District
for its response to your complaint. The School District asked for
an extension of time until October 26, 1998, which we granted.
By letter dated October 21, 1998, the School District responded,
enclosing a copy of the notice and agenda for the September 17,
1998 meeting and the minutes. According to the School District,
at the time it posted the notice of the September 17, 1998
meeting, the School District did not expect a large crowd for the
group discussion with the PTA. A larger group of people showed up
after the September 15, 1998 resignation of the Band Director (Ty
Sponsler) wanting to know whether the School District would
accept his resignation. As stated in the School District’s
letter: “When it became apparent to the Board that night that a
large number of the members of the public who were in attendance
were there to discuss the band director’s resignation, the Board
believed it made adequate accommodations by indicating to those
parents that when the Board finished the discussion with the PTA
it would move to the cafeteria which would accommodate the large
number of music booster parents in attendance.”

The School District contends that it did not tell anybody to
leave the library. The music boosters were informed “that the
band discussion would be held in the cafeteria in order to
accommodate the large number of music boosters in attendance.This
is confirmed in the minutes.

As for the alleged “private” meeting afterwards, the School
District claims that two board members were approached by Mr.
Sponsler, who wanted to apologize to them about the circumstances
of the meeting. After a third board member approached, “Mr.
Morozowich walked up and informed the three that ‘you can’t talk
with him, this is a quorum.'”

By letter dated October 29, 1998, you responded to the School
Board’s letter. You dispute that the music boosters were able to
enter the library, but rather had to stand outside. You also
dispute that the meeting in the cafeteria started at 8:10 p.m.,
as the School Board contends. You claim that it started at 8:30
p.m. The remainder of your October 29, 1998 letter is a
reiteration of your original complaint.

1. Adequate Meeting Facilities

FOIA does not require that the meeting place of a public body
have a seat for every potential citizen. The selection of the
meeting site may violate the open meeting law only if it was
unreasonable. In making that determination, our Office “‘need not
look for optimal outcomes, but must seek to determine whether the
local governmental unit achieved a reasonable balance under the
circumstances presented at the time the decision was made.'”
Att’y Gen. Op. 96-IB23 (June 20, 1995) (quoting State v. Village
Board of Greendale, Wis. Supr., 494 N.W.2d 408, 420 (1993)).

At the time the September 17, 1998 meeting was scheduled, it was
reasonable for the School District to expect a smaller group of
people for the PTA group discussion. The School District had no
reason to expect the larger crowd of music boosters who showed up
concerned about Mr. Sponsler’s resignation two days before. It
was also reasonable for the School District to bifurcate the
meeting and address the resignation issue in a larger forum (the
cafeteria) to accommodate the music boosters. We find that the
site selections by the School District were reasonable, and did
not violate FOIA. The School District is not required to schedule
its meetings in a room (like the auditorium, as you would have
liked) to accommodate any possible number of persons who might
attend. It is only when a public body has reason to believe that
a large crowd is to be expected that larger accommodations may be
required under the open meeting law.

2. The Library Meeting

There is conflicting evidence whether any members of the public
were denied access to the library so as to be unable to hear and
participate in the PTA group discussion. According to the School
District, a number of music boosters did attend that meeting,
though the majority were not interested and went to the cafeteria
to await discussion of the resignation issue. You claim that the
music boosters were forced to stand outside the library, until
they were directed to go to the cafeteria.

The minutes tend to support the School District since there is
reference to an apology to the PTA “for the size of the group,”
suggesting the presence of the music boosters. For purposes of
FOIA, however, we do not have to resolve this factual dispute.
There is no evidence that the music boosters were interested in
the PTA issues being discussed in the library. They were there to
talk about the Band Director’s resignation, which was discussed
in the cafeteria, as you agree in your letter of October 29,
1998: “At approximately 8:30 P.M., the Board President called
upon the “Music Boosters” spokesperson for comment, followed by
individual comment from the Bank Director, individual parents,
students, and community members in attendance.” Whether the
meeting in the cafeteria started at 8:10 p.m. (according to the
School District) or 8:30 p.m. (according to you) is irrelevant.
We find no violation of the open meeting law with respect to the
PTA group discussion in the library.

3. The “Private Meeting” Afterwards

There is no evidence that the alleged “private” meeting by
several members of the board was a deliberate attempt to discuss
public business outside the requirements of the open meeting
laws. Even if Mr. Sponsler’s attempts to apologize to individual
members of the board were deemed a matter of “public business,”
it is not disputed that this “private session” (as you call it)
was “adjourned” after it was, as you describe it, “interrupted”
by you. At most, this may have been a technical violation of the
open meeting law which did not affect any substantial right of
the citizenry to be involved in the discussion of public
business.
Conclusion

Based on your complaint, the School District’s response, and the
documents provided to us, we determine that the School District
did not commit any violation of FOIA in connection with the
September 17, 1998 meeting.
Very truly yours,

W. Michael Tupman
Deputy Attorney General

Approved:

____________________
Michael J. Rich
State Solicitor

cc: The Honorable M. Jane Brady
Attorney General

Keith R. Brady, Esquire
Chief Deputy Attorney General

James D. Griffin, Esquire

Chrystyna L. Savitz
Opinion Coordinator





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