The long running court case against the North East School District, almost identical to a case in Millcreek, has been slowly moving through the courts. As detailed in a story on GoErie, The initial cases against student masking, that requested the removal of school board members was lost by the parents last September, the judge stating the districts had the authority to impose those requirements, however, Judge Erin Connelly Marucci in Erie County Common Pleas Court, rejected claims by the districts that the cases were frivolous, so the parents would not be required to pay the district’s legal defense fees. Both sides have appealed and the cases advance to Commonwealth Court.
The parents filed secondary cases saying:
the school directors erred by, among other things, meeting in private executive sessions to decide whether to appeal Connelly Marucci’s decision over the legal fees.
Again, parties on both sides asked the court to demand the other side pay their legal fees in this new litigation.
The case against the Millcreek School District was thrown out because the meeting in executive session was allowed under the Sunshine Act and they properly informed the public as to the nature of the meeting, however, the North East case has been allowed to proceed:
If litigation was a topic of an executive session, according to the Sunshine Act, the public announcement must include such details as name of the parties involved in the lawsuit and the docket number.
In the case of the North East School District, Connelly Marucci said the board failed to follow the Sunshine Act in its public announcement of the executive session. She cited the board minutes.
According to the minutes from Sept. 15, Oct. 6 and Oct. 20, Board President Nick Mobilia said at the start of the meetings that the school directors “had met in an Executive Session prior to this evening’s meeting concerning areas permissible under Act 84 which include confidentiality issues protected by law, student issues, personnel, legal matters, and other matters relevant to the operation of the district.”
In her seven-page decision in the North East case, Connelly Marucci said, “This announcement fails to detail general nature of litigation including the title and docket number required by law.”
Connelly Marucci let stand the claim in the lawsuit against North East that the school directors violated the Sunshine Act due to the deficient public announcement on the executive session.
The Sunshine Act is important
To some, the case at this point may sound like it’s pursuing a minor technicality, but it’s not. The Sunshine Act is a serious and vital tool that allows members of the public to see what our government agencies are doing and how they are working on our behalf. In those cases where some details must be discussed in executive session, there are still requirements to inform the public about the matters to be discussed.
It should be of interest to everyone in North East to see how this case is resolved.
The article on GoErie is quite detailed and worth reading in its entirety.