On August 25, 2021

Parent complains, school board trains

By Curt Peterson

On Aug. 16, the Windsor Central Unified Union School District board, parents and students learned what the Covid-related requirements will be when campuses open on Sept. 1 and witnessed an open meetings law training session conducted by attorney Dina Atwood of Stitzel, Page & Fletcher, P.C.

A Vermont school board is considered a “municipality,” and must follow the same open meeting rules as select boards.

The training was the suggested remedy following an investigation by the Attorney General’s Office regarding alleged open meeting violations by the WCUUSD board.

Bryce Sammel (Barnard), board chair, told the Mountain Times that most of the allegations against the board were dismissed by the AG’s investigators, and the few that were deemed legitimate were considered “inadvertent.”

Sammel quoted a letter from the AG: “Under the circumstance the [Attorney General’s Office] does not believe an enforcement action is warranted at this time.”

The training session wasn’t considered mandatory, although the board voted to have the training as part of the remedy for the AG’s finding. A quorum did attend, and, Sammel added, “The others will be asked to watch the recording.”

The complainant was Cathy Powers, Pomfret parent of two students at the Woodstock Middle/High School campus.

“State statute requires that the chair and the superintendent attend eight hours of training every calendar year,” Powers told the Mountain Times, “which was not happening.”

Both Sammel and superintendent Sherry Sousa stated they regularly attend group training sessions through organizations such as the Vermont School Board Association. According to the actual statute, open meeting law is only one of six topics covered in the required training.

“The gist of [my] complaint was that, not only do [the district board committees] not post minutes and agendas in a timely fashion, they also held the interviews of the [candidates for] superintendent behind closed doors, which I felt was not appropriate,” Powers explained. There had also been discussions regarding the definitions of “board committees,” whose meetings would require warnings and public sessions, versus “working groups,” which, the board felt, do not.

“Despite their public response that the [search] committee they formed was not a committee, and, therefore, not obligated to follow open meeting law, I felt differently,” Powers said.

Powers feels that part of her complaint was validated by the Attorney General’s investigation in that the board must “change their practices in the future.”

Atwood said the Vermont State Supreme Court is deliberating the definition of a subcommittee. A district board feels the answer is “no open meetings requirement” — the AG disagrees.

Sammel said there is no precedent in law affirming the AG’s position, and the WCUUSD board feels the litigating district is in the right. Atwood also advised board members to use official district email addresses exclusively when referring to board issues.

“The Attorney General’s office was very nice, and responsive, although it took months to complete the investigation as the board and their attorney were unresponsive to them,” Powers wrote.

Sammel took exception to that statement, saying the board performed within 10- and 14-day deadlines for responses to all the AG’s requests.

Atwood mentioned in her presentation that failure of a school board to respond to a complaint to the AG’s office can influence the outcome of an investigation, and result in paying attorney fees and court costs.

Both Sammel and Sousa said the training was valuable.

“It is always worthwhile to participate in this type of refresher training,” Sammel said.

“Any time the board has to develop their skills as a leadership group is well worth it,” Sousa agreed. “I feel that the goal of having a more informed board was achieved.”

“I think it is best practice for everyone on the board to attend open meeting training,” Powers said, “as it is far too easy to think, once you’re elected, to forget the people who put you there, and to forget that everything you do is, and should be, including the public.”

Do you want to submit feedback to the editor?

Send Us An Email!

Related Posts

Stockbridge resident makes World MastersFly Fishing team

May 15, 2024
U.S. team of five will compete in the Czech Republic May 19-24 By Katy Savage A Stockbridge resident is casting up to test his fishing skills at the 2024 World Masters Fly Fishing Championships. Matt Stedina is one of five people who made the U.S. team. He’s currently in the Czech Republic preparing for the…

Killington Cup to return in 2024 

May 15, 2024
Killington Resort is slated to kick off the 2024-25 Audi FIS Ski World Cup races in the U.S., hosting the Stifel Killington Cup for the eighth time over Thanksgiving weekend. Over 40,000 fans are expected to cheer on the fastest female ski racers in the world, including six-time Stifel Killington Cup Slalom champion and winningest…

Robert Hecker appointed to Killington Select Board

May 15, 2024
By Curt Peterson Robert Hecker has been appointed to take Steve Finneron’s seat on the Killington Select Board. The announcement came after an executive session Monday night May 13. The position lasts until next Town Meeting Day vote, when voters will choose the person to fulfill the remaining year of Finneron’s term.  Hecker was one…

Vermont Legislature adjourns after a contentious 2024 session

May 15, 2024
Session was shaped by debates over property taxes, housing shortages, flood recovery and public safety By Sarah Mearhoff and Shaun Robinson/VTDigger After a tumultuous day of dealmaking on housing, land use and property tax measures, the Vermont Legislature adjourned its 2024 session in the early hours of Saturday morning, May 11. The Senate gaveled out at 1:18 a.m.…