legal insights


AB 361 and board meetings:

Whether virtual or in person, how do boards hold and manage their meetings?


ith a return to in-person instruction after school closures for much of the previous academic year, district and county boards are trying to determine the best way to hold their meetings. The surge in COVID-19 pandemic cases brought on by new variants has brought about more challenges by forcing schools to again close their classrooms and forcing boards that were back to in-person meetings to revert to virtual meetings.

In addition, the latest wrinkle has been disruptions to board meetings that have made it difficult for boards to do business, and in many instances, have forced boards to adjourn their meetings. This article is intended to assist boards in proceeding with their meetings in a legally compliant manner given recent legislative updates, and to provide tips on how to hold productive meetings when members of the public are disruptive.

Legislative action

On Sept. 16, 2021, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 361 into law, which amends the Brown Act to provide some relief from its teleconference requirements when there is a declared state of emergency. AB 361 was effective immediately, as an urgency measure. However, on Sept. 20, 2021, the Governor issued an executive order waiving the provisions of AB 361 until Sept. 30, 2021, when his previous executive order (Executive Order N-29-20) regarding teleconferenced meetings and the Brown Act expired. Therefore, AB 361 became effective on Oct. 1, 2021.

AB 361 adds provisions to the Brown Act that boards need not meet the teleconferenced meeting requirements in three very specific circumstances.

  • When there is a proclaimed state of emergency, and state or local officials have imposed or recommended social distancing measures;
  • Where the board meets during a proclaimed state of emergency for the purpose of determining, by majority vote, whether meeting in person would present imminent risks to the health or safety of attendees due to the emergency; or
  • Where the board holds a meeting during a proclaimed state of emergency and has determined, by majority vote, that holding the meeting in person would present imminent risks to the health or safety of attendees due to the emergency.

In summary, these relaxed rules only apply where there is a state of emergency. Every 30 days, the board must make the following findings, by a majority vote:

  • The board has reconsidered the circumstances of a state of emergency; and
  • Any of the following circumstances exist:
    • The state of emergency continues to directly impact the ability of the members to meet safely in person; or
    • State or local officials continue to impose or recommend measures to promote social distancing.

AB 361 includes a sunset on local agency provisions, which are repealed on Jan. 1, 2024.

Requirements for using teleconferenced meetings during a proclaimed state of emergency

Where a board takes advantage of these rules, it must provide the public access to the meeting (e.g., by Zoom), an opportunity to address the board directly and notice of the call-in or online means by which members of the public may access the meeting. A board must give notice of meetings and post agendas as otherwise required by the Brown Act. The board may not require members of the public to submit comments in advance of the meeting and must provide an opportunity for members of the public to address the board in real time. As with teleconferenced meetings under normal circumstances, the board is required to conduct these meetings in a manner that protects the statutory and constitutional rights of the public and other parties appearing before the board.

If there’s a disruption to the call-in option or internet-based service option so that members of the public are unable to access the meeting, the board may not take further action on items on the agenda until public access to the meeting is restored.

In-person meetings during COVID-19

Many questions have arisen regarding the board’s obligations during the COVID-19 pandemic regarding public access to meetings. If boards meet in person and allow members of the public to attend the in-person meeting, the Brown Act does not require them to allow public comment by call-in system or internet-based service option. In other words, the board may require those who wish to make public comment do so in person. In addition, while many boards stream their meetings on the internet, the Brown Act does not require them to do so.

Boards may wish to continue to allow public comment by internet-based service, such as Zoom, during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in order to ensure members of the public can comment and also feel safe doing so. The board has discretion to offer this option, but there is no statutory obligation to do so. (If a member of the public asks for a disability accommodation of call-in public comments, the LEA should follow its process for addressing requests for accommodations with respect to board meetings.)


The pandemic has brought with it disruptive meetings based on disagreement around COVID-19 mitigation measures and other issues. Board members should remember that their meeting is not a meeting of the public. Rather, it is a meeting to conduct the public’s business. A board must balance its duty to allow the public to participate with its duty to prevent disruption of the public’s business. While members of the public must be given the opportunity to speak on agenda items and, in the case of a regular meeting, on any matter within the board’s subject matter jurisdiction, the board need not accommodate disruptions that make it unable to conduct its business.

Under the Brown Act, boards may enforce reasonable regulations to manage public participation at board meetings. These regulations normally involve limits on the time given to speak on an item and on the total amount of time given to an item. Boards must enforce their regulations without bias toward the speaker’s viewpoint. Further, if a board seeks to take steps to address disruption, it must do so with respect to how and when disruption is expressed, not based on the viewpoint of the person causing the disruption. For example, a board may not prohibit comments that are critical of the board or administrators, if they are not made in a manner so disruptive to the proceedings that it becomes difficult or impossible to continue the meeting.

The Brown Act specifically provides that, “[i]n the event that any meeting is willfully interrupted by a group or groups of persons so as to render the orderly conduct of such meeting unfeasible and order cannot be restored by the removal of individuals who are willfully interrupting the meeting, the members of the legislative body conducting the meeting may order the meeting room cleared and continue in session.” (Members of the media must be allowed to remain if they are not part of the disruption.) This should be a “last resort” because it deprives the public of the ability to view the meeting and must be deployed only where it is “unfeasible” to conduct the meeting and the board is unable to restore order.

Other options include using the gavel to warn disruptive persons that they may not continue their behavior, taking a recess to try to calm the crowd, removing a particular speaker or speakers, or deciding to take up the item at a different meeting. Boards may opt to have private security or law enforcement present, though anecdotal evidence demonstrates that presence of law enforcement has not always been particularly responsive to helping boards maintain order at their board meetings.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created an extremely difficult environment for boards to navigate. Fortunately, boards have tools to enable them to conduct the business of the LEA.

Kristin Lindgren is CSBA deputy general counsel

Please note that the information provided here by CSBA is for informational purposes and is not legal advice. Please contact your district or county office of education’s legal counsel for legal questions related to this information.