A judge has ruled the Rhode Island Board of Education's plan to hold a closed-door retreat violates the state’s Open Meetings Act. The ruling, issued Tuesday, says the public must be allowed to attend a portion of the retreat which will address a controversial high school graduation policy.
At issue is the use of test scores from the New England Common Assessment Program, or NECAP, as a requirement for a high school diploma. The board had planned to gather information about the rule behind closed doors, at a two-day retreat scheduled for later this month.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which has been critical of the testing policy, sued over the plan, saying the public has a right to attend the session. The judge agreed, ruling there has been substantial public interest and debate over the testing policy, and the public should be allowed into that part of the retreat.
Board Chair Eva-Marie Mancuso responded to the ruling by announcing she would open the entire retreat to the public. In a written statement, she said opening the retreat would be in the public interest.
“Because the Governor and the Board of Education always anticipated that, ultimately, all retreat issues would be transparent and performed with public input during the next few months, the objective Board of Education and the interest of the citizens of Rhode Island are better served if all issues, not merely one, are open to the public.” Mancuso said.
Prior to the ruling, Mancuso argued that the retreat did not fall under the state’s Open Meetings Act because board members would not be “discussing” any public business. Even after the ruling, she maintained that the purpose of the retreat is to gather information quickly, on a wide range of topics.
“While a seminar type setting would be the best environment to achieve this goal, gaining and maintaining public trust and confidence is the most important achievement” Mancuso said.