WBA files brief in open meetings case involving Appleton School Board

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The Wisconsin Broadcasters Association has filed an amicus brief alongside the Wisconsin Newspaper Association and Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council supporting the plaintiff in an open meetings case against the Appleton School District Board that’s been appealed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

A letter from the three organizations to Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel explains the case:

In this case, a committee of 17 teachers, administrators and staff members in the School District of Appleton was tasked with reviewing potential works of fiction to be included in a ninth grade reading curriculum. The committee, over the course of six months, met nine times to pare down a list of more than 90 titles to 23 titles, which were then recommended to the school board. None of the committee meetings were open to the public.

The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, on behalf of parent and taxpayer John Krueger, filed a verified complaint that alleged the committee repeatedly violated the state’s open meetings law. Charges were not filed within 20 days of the complaint, prompting WILL to file a lawsuit on July 29, 2013. The circuit court ruled in favor of the school district and the decision was upheld in the Court of Appeals, which argued the committee did not constitute a “governmental body” subject to the Open Meetings Law. The court reasoned the committee originated with district staff, not the school board, and we find that to be a particularly troubling end run on the Open Meetings Law.

If the Court of Appeals’ interpretation stands, governmental bodies could carry out their duties outside the purview of the public by simply relegating their work to unaccountable committees.

The letter states that the WBA, WNA and FOIC believe, “The public is entitled to the fullest and most complete information regarding the affairs of government as is compatible with the conduct of governmental business.”