Violation of the Open Meetings Act? Chicago Board of Education Left Out Hearing Officer Reports in Agenda of February 25, 2009, Board meeting

In an apparent violation of the Illinois Open Meetings Act, officials of the Chicago Public Schools removed 22 hearing officer reports from the Agenda of the February 25, 2009, meeting of the Chicago Board of Education that was made available to the public prior to the meeting. By law, the complete agenda for the meeting is to be distributed 48 hours prior to the meeting. Chicago Board of Education Chief Executive Officer Ron Huberman (above, right, during the Board meeting on February 25) apparently ordered that the hearing officer reports from the public hearings on the school closings, consolidations, turnarounds, and phase outs be removed from the official published agendas of the February 25, 2009 Board of Education meeting prior to the agendas' distribution on February 23, 2009. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. Traditionally, the Chicago Board of Education agenda becomes available at 10:00 a.m. on the Monday of the week of the Board of Education meeting (the Board meets Wednesday, with the meeting usually beginning at 10:30 a.m.). However, the agendas of the meeting that we made available to the public prior to the controversial February 25, 2009 Board of Education meeting had at least 22 documents that should have been part of the agenda removed. Sources at CPS have confirmed that the agendas in printed form each included the report of the hearing officer on the fate of each of the 22 schools that had been considered for closing, consolidation, reconstitution (called turnaround in Chicago), and phase out.

When the agenda was distributed to the public, however, each of the hearing officer reports had been removed from the agenda. Substance requested and received copies of the public agenda on the morning of February 23 and prior to the beginning of the meeting on February 25. Neither of those agenda contained the hearing officer report, which should have been part of the Board Report that recommended the fate of each of the schools. A Board Report is the form each item before the Board takes on the lengthy agenda for each meeting.

Substance has requested interviews with Chicago Schools Chief Executive Officer Ron Huberman and with School Board President Michael Scott about the problem. Both Huberman and Scott were just assuming their new duties at the time the controversial proposals were being made. The question is who authorized the provision of an incomplete agenda to the public? The agenda that was made public, by not including the hearing officer reports, provided the public with only information about the most controversial actions recommended for the February 25 meeting.

The Illinois Open Meetings Act provides that certain matters not be on the public agenda. These include personnel matters (pertaining to individuals), real estate purchases and transactions, and pending litigation.

The hearing officers' reports were not among those categories permitted to be kept off the agenda on February 25.

The hearing officer reports have also been kept off the final "Agenda of Action" being distributed to the public by the Chicago Board of Education. Traditionally, the "Agenda of Action" is published within four days after the Board of Education meeting. The Agenda of Action from the February 25, 2009, meeting was finally available to the public on Tuesday, March 3, because the Board of Education offices were closed on Monday, March 2, in honor of the Pulaski Day holiday, a Chicago public schools holiday. The Agenda of Action being distributed from the Board's offices at 125 S. Clark St. in Chicago does not include the hearing officer reports. 


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