Boards can receive updates about the COVID-19 pandemic without violating the Brown Act

District and county office of education board members have worked tirelessly this year to communicate with each other, with staff and with their communities to ensure they are serving all of their students amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Boards have held virtual meetings and created new systems that allow the public to participate and comment. Boards have also created opportunities for others to learn about new health requirements during the pandemic, distance learning options for students, and myriad other important updates and new information relevant to county office and district operations during the state of emergency. In addition, board members have worked to collaborate on best practices with other board members and experts throughout the state. In short, board members have taken on a challenging time while continuing to navigate the requirements of the Brown Act to ensure their deliberative and decision-making processes are open to the public.

Informational updates about the impacts of and responses to the COVID-19 pandemic may be particularly important this fall, and boards should remember that Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Executive Order N-35-20 addresses this need. If a majority of the members of a given board wish to attend informational sessions outside of an open and noticed meeting, members should review Executive Order N-35-20 from March 21, 2020, to ensure the gathering falls within the exception described in item #2 of the order:

Man on virtual meeting
Under this order, every member of a district or county office board may receive updates relevant to the declared emergency (including updates concerning the impacts of COVID-19, the government response to COVID-19 and other aspects relevant to the declared emergency) from federal, state and local officials, and may ask questions of those officials in order for members of the board to stay apprised of emergency operations and impacts on their constituents.

Board members should note that Executive Order N-35-20 does not permit the members of a board to take action on, or to discuss among themselves, any item of business that is within the subject matter jurisdiction of the board without complying with otherwise applicable requirements of the Brown Act. This means that board members should avoid discussing with a majority of their board outside of a noticed meeting any item of business that is within their subject matter jurisdiction, including any such information they receive from the public officials.

Please note that the information provided here by CSBA is for informational purposes and is not legal advice. Please contact your legal counsel for questions related to this information.