Open Meetings And School Board Governance: The Wisconsin Supreme Court’s Recent Ruling

Wisconsin Supreme Court:

¶27 Applying these principles, we conclude that CAMRC was a committee created by rule under Wis. Stat. § 19.82(1). First, it qualifies as a “committee” for purposes of the open meetings law because it had a defined membership of 17 individuals upon whom was conferred the authority, as a body, to review and select recommended educational materials for the Board’s approval. This authority to prepare formal curriculum recommendations for Board approval was not exercised by teachers and curriculum specialists on their own. The Board——acting through Rule 361 and the Handbook——provided that the members of review committees would exercise such authority collectively, as a body. Second, CAMRC was created by rule because District employees, when they formed CAMRC, relied on the authority to form review committees that was delegated to them by Rule 361 and the Handbook.
1. CAMRC Was a “Committee”
¶28 The parties appear to agree that CAMRC took the form
of a “committee” for purposes of the open meetings law, and they focus their dispute instead on the second part of the definition. But we are not bound by the parties’ concessions. See State v. Hunt, 2014 WI 102, ¶42 n.11, 360 Wis. 2d 576, 851 N.W.2d 434. We therefore briefly explain why we agree that CAMRC was a “committee” under Wis. Stat. § 19.82(1).
¶29 First, CAMRC was formed as a collective entity with a defined membership of 17 particular individuals. Although these individuals volunteered, and Bunnow suggested that more would have been welcome to join, the 17 nevertheless constituted a defined membership selected pursuant to the procedures set forth in the Handbook. Bunnow testified that all 17 members were present and voting at all CAMRC meetings, except for a final meeting which Bunnow characterized as merely a “subcommittee” meeting.

Patrick Marley:

John Krueger and the parent group Valley School Watch asked the Appleton Area School District to offer an alternative freshman communications course because they didn’t want children reading references to suicide and sex in the book “The Body of Christopher Creed.”

District Superintendent Lee Allinger asked the district’s chief academic officer and humanities director to respond to Krueger’s concerns but didn’t tell them how to specifically handle it.

They declined to form a new course because students already could opt out of reading specific books. Instead, they formed a 17-member committee and Krueger argued its meetings must be conducted in public because it was essentially created by order of a high-ranking official.

The committee did not meet in public and Krueger sued in 2011 with the assistance of the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty. A Waupaca County judge ruled in the school district’s favor in 2014, as did the District 3 Court of Appeals in 2016.