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School Committee Takes Open Meeting Complaint to Exec Session

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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WILLLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Mount Greylock Regional School Committee engaged in an apparent violation of the commonwealth's Open Meeting Law Friday in its effort to respond to a complaint of a prior violation.
 
At 12:06 p.m., the committee moved to executive session to consider its response to an OML complaint filed by the editor of iBerkshires.com.
 
The Attorney General's Office's 2018 "Open Meeting Law Guide and Educational Materials" lists 10 acceptable reasons for public bodies to hold a meeting in executive session. Responding to an Open Meeting Law complaint is not on that list.
 
"The law states 10 specific purposes for which an executive session may be held, and emphasizes that these are the only reasons for which a public body may enter executive session," the guide states on Page 11 before listing and explaining the 10 purposes for closed-door meetings.
 
iBerkshires.com on July 13 filed an OML complaint against the School Committee related to its executive session meetings in June and July prior to the departure of the school district's superintendent on July 11.
 
At the committee's July 13 meeting, member Al Terranova mentioned in open session a prior decision by the School Committee to conduct a search for a full-time superintendent in 2021.
 
Since such a decision was never discussed in an open meeting, and, in fact, the committee had never contemplated in open session an imminent departure of then-Superintendent Kimberley Grady, the only logical inference is that such a discussion was held in executive session.
 
It is debatable from a reading of the AGO's guide that such a topic would have been an acceptable point of discussion for executive session. But, in any event, the stated reason for the committee's meetings on June 3, 17 and 25 and July 1 was, "to conduct strategy sessions in preparation for negotiations with non-union personnel (Superintendent)."
 
The only conceivable executive session purpose that would allow the kind of discussion hinted at by Terranova is the first purpose listed in Massachusetts General Law: "To discuss the reputation, character, physical condition or mental health, rather than professional competence, of an individual, or to discuss the discipline or dismissal of, or complaints or charges brought against, a public officer, employee, staff member or individual."
 
The statute specifies that if this is the reason for an executive session, the individual involved needs to be notified in advance and given the right to legal counsel at the executive session.
 
On Monday, July 6, School Committee Chair Christina Conry replied to a request for information about the four executive sessions in June and July by writing, "The Superintendent was not invited, nor participated, in the executive sessions previously mentioned." Again, this indicates that the purpose of the executive sessions held was not tied to the "discipline or dismissal" exemption to the Open Meeting Law.
 
On Friday, shortly after Conry called the committee's virtual meeting to order in open session, she accepted a motion from Carolyn Greene to adjourn to executive session with intent to return to open session for the purpose of discussing "a complaint brought against the public body," as stated in the meeting's agenda.
 
The district's counsel, Adam Dupere, was present (virtually) when the meeting was called to order. He also was present when the panel returned to open session at 12:32. It was not clear — and not stated by the chair — whether he participated in the executive session or was moved to a virtual "waiting room" with other attendees during the closed-door portion of the meeting.
 
Public bodies have 14 business days to respond to complaints of Open Meeting Law violations. Since the iBerkshires.com complaint was filed on July 13, the deadline will be July 31.
 
In other business on Friday afternoon, the School Committee voted unanimously to appoint Interim Superintendent Robert Putnam the district's secretary/clerk and discussed the 12 to 14 questions it plans to ask candidates for the permanent superintendent position next week.
 
Conry said the committee, which sought questions from members of the community, had 54 questions submitted, including questions from committee members, the district's teachers union, students and community members.

Tags: MGRSD,   open meeting complaint,   

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Mount Greylock Interim Superintendent Proposing Fully Remote Start to School Year

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Mount Greylock Regional School District's interim superintendent Tuesday told the community he will propose the district start the year with fully remote learning for general education students.
 
In a virtual town hall, Robert Putnam previewed the proposal for the start of school that he will present to the School Committee for a vote on Thursday evening. Districts throughout the commonwealth must present their reopening plans, approved by school committees, to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education by Friday.
 
Putnam emphasized throughout his presentation that all of his plans for the preK-12, three school district are still subject to negotiation with the district's teachers union. He mentioned "bargaining" at least four times in his half-hour presentation before addressing attendees' questions.
 
As he has throughout his six-week tenure as interim superintendent, Putnam said remote learning will be the cornerstone of the district's planning for the 2020-21 school year. And when classes resume in mid-September, Putnam expects remote learning to be the only mode of instruction.
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