New rule to attend CPS meetings draws complaints
By Noreen S. Ahmed-Ullah Tribune reporter 8:11 p.m. CDT, August 28, 2013
A new requirement that participants sign up online to attend the monthly Chicago Board of Education meeting drew complaints Wednesday and claims the district is violating the Open Meetings Act.
Ronald Jackson, a regular at CPS board meetings, said he had signed up before the meeting but was turned away by security guards who couldn’t find his name on a list. Jackson asked to see the district’s legal department. Eventually, he was allowed into the meeting.
Jackson said many others who tried to attend the meeting Wednesday where CPS was voting on its budget for fiscal year 2014 ended up leaving after being denied entry.
“I shouldn’t have to be harassed,” Jackson said. “District policy doesn’t override state and federal laws.”
Maryam Judar, executive director of the Citizen Advocacy Center in Elmhurst, said government agencies can ask for people to sign up to speak at public meetings, or even require people to sign up to get a count on attendance. But they cannot deny someone entry into a public meeting because they have not signed up beforehand.
“The purpose of the Open Meetings Act is that deliberations take place in public, and the public may attend the meeting as an observer, Judar said. “It would be in contravention of the Open Meetings Act to limit that availability to a select few. They shouldn’t be turning people away for lack of signing up.”
The district’s guidelines stated people who wanted to speak or even observe board meetings “must register in advance of the day of the meeting.”
CPS officials said later Wednesday they will be amending their guidelines to make it clear that the public is not required to sign up in advance in order to attend the board meeting.
“Our goal is to ensure the safety and accommodate the needs of all attending our monthly Board of Education meetings,” said CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll. “That is why we are requesting, but not requiring, that members of the public planning to attend these meetings to register in advance so we can best prepare to accommodate all visitors on those days. Any member of the public who wishes to attend the Board meeting can do so without registering in advance given that there is adequate space in Board chambers and its overflow room."
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