On March 13, 2020, Ohio Attorney General David Yost issued a letter to local officials regarding Ohio’s Open Meetings Act (OMA), R.C. 121.22, during the COVID-19 emergency. During this emergency, Attorney General Yost stated public bodies, including boards of education, temporarily may use electronic means to comply with the law. Relying on the Ohio Department of Health’s order prohibiting mass gatherings, Attorney General Yost concluded “it is reasonable to read the OMA’s ‘in person’ requirement as permitting a member of a public body to appear at a public meeting via teleconference.”
Attorney General Yost cautions if one or more members of a public body choose to appear at a meeting remotely, all other OMA obligations must be fulfilled. This includes having a quorum present. Yost also advises if a member participating by telephone is cut off, the body should “cease all discussions and deliberations until the member can be reconnected.” As a practical matter, we suggest any board of education considering electronic meetings in whole or part should designate an employee to monitor remote participation for any interruptions.
In his letter, Attorney General Yost also reaffirmed boards of education and other public bodies may make meetings open to the public by live-streaming through the internet or on television. Here, Yost cautioned any public body doing this must ensure the public can “hear the discussions and deliberations of all of the members, even those who are present by telephonic means.” (Emphasis in original.) Yost further notes all other OMA requirements, such as those concerning public notice, executive session and the taking of minutes, continue to apply.
The Ohio High School Athletic Association has published “OHSAA Spring Sports Q’s and A’s (Practices, Contests, Tournaments)” concerning interscholastic athletics during the COVID-19 emergency. You can access the document here.
OHSAA has directed a no-contact period, which is in effect for spring sports beginning on March 17, 2020 and continuing through at least April 5, 2020. During this time, no OHSAA member schools may conduct practices or participate in scrimmages or contests. Practices tentatively are scheduled to resume on April 6, and scrimmages and/or contests on April 11. School facilities “SHALL NOT” be used for athletic activities, and school coaches may not provide individual skill/coaching instruction to student-athletes. Schools are “HIGHLY ENCOURAGED TO CANCEL” out-of-state spring break trips, and OHSAA cautions practices and/or contests for spring sports led by parents, coaches and/or students are “HIGHLY DISCOURAGED” at this time. Finally, during the no-contact period, student-athletes may not participate with a non-school club or travel team if they already have participated in an interscholastic scrimmage or contest.
As a reminder, issues related to COVID-19 are fluid and subject to rapid change. Additional information about Coronavirus and the State’s response can be found here.
This communication is intended as general information and should not be relied upon as legal advice. If legal advice is required, please contact any of our attorneys on our cell phone, at (614) 222-8686, or via email.