Asked & Answered is written by the staff of NJSBA’s Legal and Labor Relations Services Department. It reflects information, data and guidance available to NJSBA members through this important Association unit.
If I can’t be physically present at my local board meeting, may I participate in the meeting via speakerphone or video teleconference? It depends. Does the board have policy authorizing the use of speakerphone or video teleconference technologies during a public meeting?
Why is a teleconferencing policy important? The Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) says a meeting “includes any gathering whether corporeal or by means of communication equipment, … to discuss or act as a unit upon the specific public business of that body.” That phrase would seem to refer to teleconferencing technologies; accordingly, the New Jersey Attorney General’s office has permitted members of state boards it represents to participate by speakerphone. However, the courts have not uniformly agreed with the Legislature on this point. With a lack of clear guidance for school boards on the issue, a formal policy clarifies to board members and the general public exactly what a board believes about teleconferencing and the conditions under which it will be permitted.
Must a board have a teleconferencing policy? While not mandated by law, the first consideration may be whether or not a board wants to permit teleconferencing at all. Nothing in law or regulation requires a board to permit members to participate remotely. If a board does want to permit it, the policy should describe the conditions under which it can occur.
What are some items that a board might want to consider when drafting a teleconferencing policy? There are several questions s a board may want to consider when drafting a teleconferencing policy. These may include:
- How much notice must board members give prior to the meeting in which they want to participate remotely? Boards may not always have teleconferencing equipment immediately available and may require time to set up so that the board and public who are physically present can hear/see the absent board member clearly.
- What criteria will the board use to permit or deny remote participation of its members? The board should consider whether to allow remote participation for any reason or only certain reasons. The policy should be specific and uniformly applied to all board members. Take the extreme example of a board member who remotely participates in every meeting. Would such a scenario be acceptable to the remaining members of the board or community who attend meetings in person?
- Will the board permit a quorum or more of its members to participate remotely? The OPMA provides no guidance on this issue; it is one of individual board preference.
- Will the board permit board members to participate remotely for closed session? Closed session is used to discuss subject matters that fall under one of nine OPMA exceptions. Because of the nature of closed session, the board should consider whether remote locations are suitable to discuss confidential matters.
These are just a few of the considerations a board may want to discuss with its board attorney as it considers drafting remote participation policy.