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Decision No. 12,671

Appeal of CHRISTOPHER WITTNEBEN from action of the Board of Education of the Lindenhurst Union Free School District regarding the conduct of school board meetings.

Decision No. 12,671

(March 20, 1992)

Cooper, Sapir & Cohen, P.C., attorneys for respondent, Robert E. Sapir, Esq., of counsel

SOBOL, Commissioner.--Petitioner appeals from a decision of the Board of Education of the Lindenhurst Union Free School District not to permit public input at certain board meetings. The appeal must be dismissed.

At special meetings of the board held on November 18 and 19, 1991, respondent did not permit members of the public to address the board. Petitioner contends that respondent's failure to permit public participation at those meetings violated board policy. The record indicates that board policy no. 2202, adopted on June 26, 1984, permits the board to limit or exclude public discussion at a board meeting. There is no statutory mandate that requires a board to permit public input at its meetings (Matter of Thomas, et al., 10 Ed Dept Rep 108; Matter of Zarrilli, 5 id. 212; Matter of Kramer, 72 St Dept Rep 114; 72 Op St Compt 114). Education Law '1708(3) merely provides that meetings of a board of education "shall be open to the public"; however, it does not confer a right upon a member of the public to speak at such meetings without the consent of the board. Accordingly, respondent's actions contravened neither its own policy nor statute.

However, in Matter of Kramer, supra, the Commissioner of Education discussed the matter of public participation at school board meetings. He held:

It will be noted that in accordance with the provisions of the aforesaid statute [Education Law '1708(3)] all board meetings must be open to the public. There is nothing, however, in the statute that prescribes the procedure to be followed at such meetings, leaving the same to the bylaws of the board of education. There is no requirement that the board conduct a hearing upon any particular subject or grant to any person the right to be heard. The board, of course, represents the school district and, in my judgment, wherever possible should listen to a presentation on the part of the responsible citizens upon any matter under consideration. (emphasis supplied)

Accordingly, I urge respondent to, whenever appropriate, permit public input at its meetings.