Q: What is the current status of school board meetings in Texas—may we continue to hold our board meetings remotely? If so, for how long?
A: Yes, at this time, school boards may continue to hold board meetings via remote methods, such as videoconference or telephonic meetings; however, the ability to do so is dependent on the continued existence of a valid emergency declaration, and the current declaration is set to expire on July 5, 2021, unless extended by the Texas Governor.
In March 2020, in response to the COVID-19 emergency, the Texas Governor issued a disaster declaration for all Texas counties aimed at protecting the health and safety of Texans and ensuring an effective response to the pandemic. Importantly, among the various executive orders was the suspension of numerous statutory provisions that compel physical interaction between persons. This suspension included provisions in the Texas Open Meetings Act (“TOMA”) that require the general public and a quorum of the school board to be together in the same location. With these provisions suspended, school boards, for the first time, were allowed to hold board meetings by way of telephonic and videoconference meetings, so long as they complied with the other mandates in the Act that are not subject to the suspension.
Since the initial suspension in March 2020, the Governor has issued a new proclamation each month to renew the disaster declaration for all Texas counties, thereby extending the above-mentioned TOMA suspensions. Although the disaster declaration does not include a specific expiration date, under Texas law, it may not continue for more than 30 days, unless renewed by the Governor. Therefore, the most recent declaration issued on June 4, 2021, it is set to expire on July 5, 2021, absent renewal by the Governor.
It is unclear whether the Governor will continue to renew the disaster declaration in July or otherwise terminate the TOMA suspensions, but in any event, the declaration will be lifted at some point or expire by operation of law. When that happens, and absent some new proclamation or law to the contrary, Texas school boards will no longer be allowed to hold board meetings remotely. The Governor’s proclamations can be located here. For specific questions or additional information regarding the disaster declaration or remote board meetings, please contact your local school law attorney.