Wisconsin’s open-meetings law says that public boards must give residents the “time, date, place and subject matter of (a public) meeting, including that intended for consideration at any contemplated closed session, in such form as is reasonably likely to apprise members of the public and the news media thereof.”

A whole lot of legal mumbo-jumbo and some Supreme Court rulings have tried to make clear what is “reasonable.” It boils down to this, according to the court:

“In making that determination, the factors to be considered include: [1] the burden of providing more detailed notice, [2] whether the subject is of particular public interest, and [3] whether it involves nonroutine action that the public would be unlikely to anticipate.”

All this is important in light of the Ashland School Board’s May 20 meeting at which the board went into closed session and voted unanimously to kill two of the district’s three charter schools — matters that are certainly nonroutine and of particular public interest.

The legal notice for that meeting said the closed session involved “contract negotiations.” Nothing more.

The Daily Press did not have a reporter at that meeting, and the dozens of parents of Ashland charter school students did not attend, because the district made no effort whatsoever to tell people what it was considering — and perhaps even intentionally misled the public with that “contract negotiations” summary.

We will leave it to Ashland County District Attorney David Meany to determine if the school board violated open-meetings law with that agenda. The Daily Press on Friday sent him a written request to review the matter and take appropriate action.

But it certainly appears to the casual observer that the board didn’t want any of those pesky reporters or parents showing up to muddy the waters or ask hard questions.

They might also have wanted to avoid the kids who attend those schools, who are formidable.

On their own initiative, those kids crafted a reasoned and reasonable letter to the school board after the vote asking members to reconsider.

They also contacted this newspaper and sat down with a reporter to air their concerns — not just for themselves, but for future students who won’t have the opportunities they had.

The kids were universally articulate, organized and passionate about their schools.

And charter schools, perhaps ironically, teach by having students confront problems and obstacles and find solutions to them. Those lessons appear to have been learned well at the Lake Superior and Oredocker charters.

We will have to wait and see if Meany determines the board violated the law by veiling its intentions at that May 20 meeting.

But a Daily Press reporter will be at the June School Board meeting. The public comment section might get a trifle heated.

Peter J. Wasson is managing editor of the Ashland Daily Press.

(Copyright © 2019 APG Media)

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