On March 6, 2017, the Appellate Division of Superior Court upheld a school district’s decision to redact closed session minutes prior to their release in response to a citizen’s Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request.

In Smith v. Swedesboro-Woolwich Board of Education, a citizen sought closed session minutes from a meeting in which the board discussed the superintendent’s performance. The citizen received a redacted copy of the closed session minutes, along with the reason for the redactions, but argued that he should have access to an unredacted copy of the minutes.

The Appellate Court rejected the citizen’s claims and upheld the actions of the board of education. The court said, “Any OPRA analysis of documents memorializing closed-session discussions must be informed by the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA), the statute which permits the agency to go into executive session…. ” OPRA dovetails with OPMA by exempting documents on these subjects from disclosure as public records.

The court continued by saying: “This matter proceeded exactly as it was supposed to. Upon receipt of plaintiff’s OPRA request, the Board provided plaintiff with the minutes of the executive session, redacted as the Board determined appropriate with an accompanying privilege log” that explained the reasons for the redactions. Further, the board’s discussion “assessing the superintendent’s performance in order to determine whether it would renew the superintendent’s contract, is protected from disclosure under the personnel records exception under OPRA.”

The court conclusion affirmed the judgement of the lower court in rejecting the citizen’s claims to unredacted copies of the minutes

Boards of education should review their policies and procedures concerning OPRA requests and discuss any concerns with their board counsel as needed.