Charlotte school board violated Open Meetings Law, judge rules

WBTV sued CMS board over varied, repeated violations
WBTV sued CMS board over varied, repeated violations
Published: Jun. 7, 2023 at 2:55 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education repeatedly violated the N.C. Open Meetings Law, a judge has ruled.

Judge Nathaniel Poovey made the ruling official in an order signed last month in a case WBTV first filed against the school board in late 2021 and amended in February 2022 alleging violations of the law in both years.

In its complaint, WBTV alleged CMS violated the open meetings law repeatedly and in a number of different ways:

  • By shutting the public out of attending open meetings in-person, even when the board was meeting in-person
  • By not starting closed session meetings in open session and then voting to move to closed session
  • By not properly advertising all closed session meetings
  • By not keeping proper closed session minutes
  • By not allowing the public access to the Title IX Task Force, which was convened to study ways to improve the handling of reported sexual violence

Lawyers for WBTV detailed repeated attempts to address and correct the violations with lawyers for CMS, to no avail.

In his order, Poovey agreed with the station that CMS violated the law in four of the five ways but ruled the Title IX Task Force was not a public body and, therefore, could meet privately.

Poovey also ruled that the open meetings violations “were unintentional and were partially caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.” As a result, Poovey did not order CMS to pay the station’s attorney’s fees.

The order requires the district to do the following:

  • Permit the public to attend in-person Board meetings unless one or more Board member(s) is participating virtually during certain declarations of emergency
  • Provide clear online notice of the time and place of all regularly scheduled Board meetings and provide notice of any changes to closed session meeting time and locations
  • Convene closed session meetings only after making a proper motion in open session
  • Revise minutes of a closed session meeting from July 1, 2021 to provide a detailed account of what happened

The board had already made changes to how and where it noticed meetings -- both open and closed sessions -- after WBTV filed its lawsuit but prior to the order being issued by the judge.

More recently, the board released redacted closed session minutes detailing the board’s process for selecting a new superintendent.