The Montgomery County school board lacks legal authority for its attempt to compel members to maintain the secrecy of the board's closed-door deliberations, according to an opinion issued by the Maryland attorney general.
The board of education sought a mandate to punish board member Joseph R. Barse for his disclosure last January to a reporter that a decision was made in executive session to hire Edward Andrews as the new superintendent of schools.
Attorney General Stephen H. Sachs wrote that while the board can adopt a resolution expressing its disapproval of a member's actions, "nothing in state law imposes a general duty on members of county boards of edcuation to maintain the confidentiality of executive sessions.
"The board, by the mere adoption of 'Robert's Rules of Order,' has not legally bound its members to honor the secretary of executive sessions."
Sachs stated that imposing a duty of confidentiality cannot be justified as an educational policy or as a rule designed for the conduct and management of schools.
The school board regularly schedules executive sessions during its regular business meetings that last anywhere from 10 minutes to two hours, to consider personnel, labor or legal matters.
"I believe in the past the board has not been sufficiently open in its executive sessions," Barse said. "The reasons for discussing some things in private is a judgemental decision."
Barse said he believed that the attorney general's opinion indicated that the discussions of executive sessions could be made public unless there were unanimous agreement among the board members that a matter would be kept secret.
"There will probably be a change of procedures for closed-door sessions," he said.
Board president Carol Wallace said she has asked the board's attorney, Charles Reese, for an interpretation of Sachs' opinion. She said the board has not discussed the incident or any change of procedure.