By the Goldwater Institute
The public’s business should be open to the public. And under Rhode Island law, it is. Yet when mom Nicole Solas sought to attend the meeting of a publicly funded committee that meets weekly to discuss and make recommendations on policies that apply across her daughter’s school district, she was told that the meeting was closed and parents were not welcome.
Now, the Goldwater Institute is pushing back: We’ve joined with the Stephen Hopkins Center for Civil Rights in Rhode Island to represent Nicole in a complaint before the state attorney general asserting that the school district has violated Rhode Island’s Open Meetings Act (OMA) by closing these meetings to the public.
Rhode Island’s OMA was enacted to ensure that “public business be performed in an open and public manner and that the citizens be advised of and aware of the performance of public officials and the deliberations and decisions that go into the making of public policy.” The presumption under that law is always in favor of public access.
Yet in March 2021, the South Kingstown School Committee signed an agreement with the South Kingstown BIPOC Advisory Board to hold weekly meetings where district policies ranging from student discipline to coaching to hiring would be discussed and where recommendations would be made on those issues by the Board to the School Committee. In other words, the Board was charged with advisory power by the School Committee over matters of significant public interest—the education of South Kingstown’s youth. The Board is also publicly funded with taxpayer dollars by the School Committee, and two members of the School Committee’s subcommittee on policy sit on the Board.