Board of Ed Keeps Closed-Door Retreat on Calendar; ACLU Seeks Restraining Order

Aug 6, 2013

Lawyers from the Rhode Island Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union will be in court Tuesday for a hearing as they try to block the State Board of Education from holding a retreat that’s closed to the public.

The ACLU claims the retreat violates the state’s open meetings act. The group has asked a judge for a temporary restraining order to stop the two-day retreat, scheduled for August 25th and 26th.

State Education Board Chair Eva-Marie Mancuso maintains the retreat does not violate the law. She says the board plans to hear briefings on a variety of issues, including a controversial policy that makes test scores a graduation requirement for high school students. But Mancuso says board members will not discuss high-stakes testing or any other public business during the private session.

"The purpose of the retreat is to inform the Board Members regarding educational topics to assist them in fulfilling their fiduciary obligations to the citizens of the State of Rhode Island in the upcoming school year," Mancuso said in a written statement issued on Friday, after the ACLU announced its lawsuit challenging the legality of the closed-door meeting.

RIACLU Executive Director Steve Brown says he finds it hard to justify such secrecy by a public board.

“The debate over high stakes testing may be the most critical public issue that the Board of Education deals with during its first year,” Brown wrote in an email. “It is astonishing to think that any decisions they make about it will be based on information given to them completely hidden from public view.”

A spokesman from the State Department of Education says as of now the board retreat is going forward as scheduled, despite the lawsuit. Board Chair Mancuso says private retreats were a relatively common practice when she served on the now-defunct Board of Governors for Higher Education.