The Open Meeting Law - Curricula Adoption Primer Series
Porting and consolidating the Twitter OML Primer Series into Substack
In this post:
The Twitter OML Primer Series
Parts I and II: Introducing the Legal Process: OML and Curricula Adoption
Legislative History: How a Soft-spoken Rancher from Southeast Arizona Changed the Landscape for all Arizona Schools
The Case of Litchfield Elementary School District - the AG Comes Down
My Testimony to the AZ Senate Education Committee on SB1211
My OML Complaint and Diligence Report Re: Chronic OML-Abuser Scottsdale Unified School District
This is a long read and will not be typical of future posts. I’m porting and consolidating my Twitter OML Primer Series into Substack. Substack obviously allows for more creativity and space to more fully develop thoughts on complicated subjects.
The purpose is to provide a single source for OML information I have shared on Twitter, in the form of a convenient one-stop reference site dedicated to how the OML applies to Arizona school textbook adoptions.
By the end of this post, if you follow the links and have patience to the end, you’ll practically be an expert on the legal process required of textbook adoptions in Arizona. Stay with me. Future posts won’t be quite as long or choppy - I promise, kinda, sorta.
1/ The Twitter OML Primer Series
I started the OML Primer Series on Twitter after realizing no one really understood what I was talking about when I said my school district, Scottsdale Unified School District (SUSD), just approved millions in textbook adoptions without holding a single public meetings. The typical response was puzzlement - what is the open meeting law? You mean, it applies to textbook adoptions? But schools have never done that - are you sure? There were parents on that committee, how could it not be considered a public meeting? But the administration has experts - and general counsel!
The OML Primer Series starts by looking at the statutory framework - and conceptual basis - for textbook adoptions. Yes, there are important concepts, or maybe precepts is a better word - as well as legal principles at play here: parental rights to direct the education and upbringing of our children, civic institutions, the role of elected officials on local school boards - and the granddaddy of them all: transparency in government activities that affect your rights as free citizens in a representative democracy.
2/ Parts I and II: Introducing the Legal Process: OML and Curricula Adoption
In Part I Primer | Open Meeting Law 101: OML and Curriculum Adoption Committees, I look at
The statutory basis of parental rights regarding public education in Arizona
Who has the statutory authority to approve textbooks and instructional material
How the OML interacts with the AZ Parents’ Bill of Rights and education statutes, and
How school districts like SUSD violate these laws.
See Parts I and II here:
To summarize - parents have rights to review textbooks both before and after adoption by school districts and governing boards have duties to ensure procedures are in place to enable parents to exercise these rights. And in Arizona, the statutes lay out the required steps governing boards must follow to lawfully introduce those textbooks to your children. Those procedures are set out in ARS §§15-721 (for K-8) and 15-722 (for high schools) and consist of a number of steps. While there is some minor difference between the two statutes, they are at core essentially the same for purposes of the OML.
First, governing boards have statutory authority to purchase textbooks, and PRIOR TO ADOPTING AND PURCHASING, they must ensure information about these textbooks is disseminated to the public on the school website (for high schools), made available for inspection and public comment for no less than 60 days, and any committees that are formed to review and select those textbooks must conduct open public meetings.
The statutes are not complex. They are not ambiguous. There’s no room for multiple interpretations. See for yourself. For example, under ARS §15-722, the governing board SHALL (i.e., compelled, mandated, required, not optional, don’t even think about skipping):
The steps are not complicated, you don’t need a law degree to understand this. And yet school districts somehow overlook step #2 on open pubic committee meetings.
It’s as if every school district in Arizona has this gianormous blind spot the size of the Eye of Sauron stretching from Page to Nogales for anything related to OML and textbooks. For district superintendents, staff and school boards, it just doesn’t exist.
We’ve never done that before. Let the experts handle this. Next agenda item!
3/ Legislative History: How a Soft-spoken Rancher from Southeast Arizona Changed the Landscape for all Arizona Schools
This initial disbelief from some people was disheartening - so in this thread I lay out some of the legislative history to show, yes indeed, the law says what it says: the OML applies to textbook review and selection committees. What started as a K-8 requirement was extended to high schools by an interesting, soft-spoken cattle rancher state senator, Gail Griffin to whom much is owed.
You can read about Gail and that bit of history here:
4/ The Case of Litchfield Elementary School District - the AG Comes Down
I add the Litchfield case to the Primer because (1) it is a recent case of the AG investigating OML violations by a school district, (2) even though the case did not involve a curriculum adoption committee, the AG's closing letter gives a short and concise statement on the applicability of the OML to committees generally, and (3) some people deeply intrenched in education issues simply refused to even consider the possibility that I may be right.
The fundamental takeaway with Litchfield is that committees formed to advise a governing board are themselves considered “public bodies” under the OML statutes - and thus, must hold their meetings in accordance with all the OML restrictions applicable to the governing board itself. This legal conclusion is compelled both by the express provisions of the OML statute which include "advisory committees" within the definition of “public body,” as well as the common law understanding of the “instrumentality” theory of agent-principal law that’s existed since the days England was a Roman province.
When a principal - a person or body with due authority and responsibility set by law - makes a delegation of some or all of that authority to another person as agent on their behalf - that act of delegation is creating an “instrument” of the principal. The agent-instrument derives its authority from the principal, has no more power than the principal possesses, and is constrained by whatever limits exist on the principal. The agent wields that delegated authority and responsibility on the same terms and with the same limitations of the principal. If the principal-public body is bound by the open meeting laws, so is the agent-committee.
In the context of textbook adoption committees, they have no authority to actually approve textbooks - the governing board is looking to them for recommendations and advice. The governing board does not have to accept those recommendations. The governing board is merely “delegating” or “outsourcing” the work of shifting through different publishing companies’ products to find textbooks acceptable to the district and aligned with state standards.
Many people, including lawyers, get hung up on whether OML definitions apply to any given public school district committee. Or they think committee member composition is important - which leads people who should know better to think that, so long as not a single governing board member is on the committee, a district committee is not subject to the OML, including textbook committees.
This is a misunderstanding of the law and confuses the issue - we do not need to determine whether a textbook adoption committee is a “board subcommittee” or an “advisory committee” under the OML statutes - in the context of textbook adoption committees, this debate is entirely inapposite, wholly misplaced.
As used in ARS §§15-721 and 15-722, any committee formed for the purpose of textbook review and selection is subject to the OML. It doesn’t matter who is on that committee. It doesn’t matter if the superintendent, not the governing board, formed the committee. If any group of living, breathing persons is reviewing and selecting textbooks that will eventually go up to the governing board for approval, that group is an OML committee. Period.
5/ My Testimony to the AZ Senate Education Committee on SB1211
Because of its relevancy to textbook adoptions, I’m adding to the Primer my February 1, 2022 testimony to the Arizona Senate Education Committee on the need for new transparency laws.
6/ My OML Complaint and Diligence Report Re: Chronic OML-Abuser Scottsdale Unified School District
Finally, please read my nearly 250-page OML complaint and diligence report against the Scottsdale Unified School District that shows a pattern of chronic and pervasive failure to follow the OML, resulting in over $3.3m worth of textbook contracts selected by closed-door committees and presented to the governing board for rubber-stamp approval - since January 2020 alone.
This is the very reason why I got involved with public school matters - I just can’t stand to see anyone, much less government officials, refusing to follow the legal process.