Why Okaloosa School Board Members won’t always publicly comment on an issue

It’s election season, and with 3 Okaloosa School Board seats up for grabs, 6 candidates (3 are incumbents) are actively campaigning leading up to Election Day.

While each candidate has their own platform and agenda, one talking point that has come up for several months now has to do with the school board “remaining silent” on certain issues brought before them during meetings.

  • These issues range from specific personnel to students incidences, with some candidates (and residents) feeling like the school board should make a public comment addressing these matters.

Here’s why that typically doesn’t happen on more serious matters

According to School Board Attorney Jeff McInnis, the subject matter that citizens may want to discuss with the school board has a lot to do with whether the board is in a position to respond or not respond to particular questions.

For instance, if the matter is regarding some business matter of the Okaloosa County School District, and it’s not on the agenda, the board may not have sufficient information to give any kind of an educated response to that question.

  • Therefore, it may be that there needs to be follow up from the Superintendent or District staff with that person so that the board can develop an appropriate response.

When it comes to student matters, the board has to be very careful in any kind of comment or discussion.

“Under both state and federal law, student records and personally identifiable information about students is confidential,” said McInnis. “Therefore, many times, if questions are raised to in a public meeting about a student matter in particular, it’s not appropriate for the board to get into those details in a public setting.”

McInnis said that the board members have to honor both the state and federal law regarding that kind of information. He says that those matters can be discussed outside of a public meeting, such as through the Superintendent’s staff, the school staff and with the parents, but in a public setting, the board has to be very careful about that.

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Additionally, there are times when items presented to the board during the public comments portion of the meeting deal with personnel-type matters. Those matters fall under the authority and jurisdiction of the Superintendent, according to McInnis.

McInnis says that to discuss personnel matters by the board in a public meeting would be outside of the scope of their jurisdiction because the Superintendent handles those matters.

“The Superintendent certainly brings recommendations to the board regarding personnel matters, but those recommendations don’t initiate themselves from the board table,” he added. “They’re brought forward under Florida law under the authority the Superintendent.”

There is another big reason why the school board has to be careful discussing personnel matters…

There could be a pending investigation of a compliant in a personnel matter.

  • Under state law, those matters are confidential and are not to be discussed publicly until those investigative procedures have been concluded.

Finally, in the case of employee discipline, McInnis says that those matters can end up back in front of the school board as a hearing body.

According to McInnis, the board needs to be careful to have not taken a public position on an employee matter if they have to turn around and hear that case as a neutral hearing body.

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