How often does your school board discuss confidentiality? Do you have a training plan for new school board members? When school boards discuss items in closed executive sessions, it’s critically important that this information stays confidential. Otherwise, students, employees, or the district as a whole. might suffer.
There are rules that govern board behavior on sensitive issues. Boards can have closed meetings to discuss specific topics, and boards act as a body, not as individuals. Sometimes, individual board members do veer off the path, putting sensitive information at risk.
Boards and board members usually don’t intentionally leak information. If they do, you have a whole other problem on your hands. Most board members know how to deal with nosy constituents trying to find out what happened in executive session. They can easily deal with the situation by saying “I can’t discuss that,” and moving on.
Most “leaks” are far more subtle. For example, many boards don’t take basic precautions regarding protecting online information or protecting paper documents and records. For example, the Family and Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) protects students from disclosure of sensitive information in their school record. Board members who are careless with this kind of information are subject to district or even legal liability.
The same is true of district employee medical records, which the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects. While it is true that these are extreme examples and school boards rarely require access to these types of records, it does illustrate how many potentially unsecured paper documents there are.
Once privy to this type of sensitive information, boards must refrain from discussions about the topic. However, if a board member leaves a document lying around, that is the same thing. For example, let’s say the board is discussing details regarding a real estate purchase and a board member leaves bid specifications lying around. This could inadvertently give certain bidders an unfair competitive advantage if the information falls into the wrong hands. The board member didn’t mean to leak it, but the damage is done.
A leak is a leak, regardless of how it happens. Nothing causes mistrust of a board more than a “leaky meeting.” Word will spread like wildfire and parents and employees will avoid discussing anything with the board for fear it will become public information. No school board wants to invite that dynamic into their board room.
For this reason, many boards are turning to an online document management system that provides modern security technology. In the digital age, there is more information and enhanced risk, so having these secure systems can go a long way into protecting your school board documents and the public trust.
Board members need to remember that leaks often lead to legal ramifications to the district and to individual board members. A board member is subject to defamation actions and other legal ramifications when he or she leaks information while acting in an official capacity. Litigation is costly and causes potentially irreparable damage to the school board’s reputation.
Remember that personnel and student issues are in closed sessions for a reason. What is said in executive session needs to stay in executive session. With these tips, you can make sure that sensitive information stays where it should.
Want to know how your educational board and staff can focus more on teaching and less on chasing emails, hunting for documents, and waiting for board members to respond to discussions? With Boardable’s board portal, you can centralize board information and communications, where everything (and everyone) is just a couple of clicks away. Click below to get started with Boardable.