A formal complaint filed against the Indianapolis Public Schools Board Monday alleges the district broke the Open Door Law when it did not hold a public meeting to approve a lawsuit against the state.
The complaint says the board met behind closed doors when it decided to sue Education Secretary Katie Jenner and others in Marion Superior Court in an attempt to legally establish whether the district is exempt from a law that allows charter school organizations to buy closed school buildings for one dollar.
It does appear the district issued no notice of a public meeting or a closed-door session for the reason of discussing litigation in the days before the lawsuit was filed on August 21.
The Indiana Charter School Network submitted the complaint with the Indiana Public Access Counselor. The group asked the office to issue a formal opinion on whether the IPS Board’s actions violated the Open Door Law.
“This approval of the lawsuit behind closed doors without any discussion in public violates the plain language of the Open Door Law’s provision that official action must only be taken in an open meeting,” an attorney for ICSN wrote in the complaint.
The purpose of Indiana’s Open Door Law is to allow the public to see the official actions of public agencies, like school boards or city councils. The law requires public notice of the date, time, and place of any meetings, executive sessions, or any rescheduled or reconvened meeting at least 48 hours prior to the meeting, according to the public access handbook.
Indiana Public Access Counselor Luke Britt declined to comment until the formal opinion is released. Opinions issued by the PAC are nonbinding.
Questions of when the IPS Board approved the lawsuit have been swirling since it was filed. WFYI asked an IPS spokesperson in an August 21 email for details of when the board approved the lawsuit. The spokesperson acknowledged the question in an email on the following day but did not provide an answer.
WFYI filed a public record request on August 23 for the public meeting notices issued for when the IPS board discussed or approved the lawsuit.
An IPS spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment late Monday.
The so-called “$1 law” was passed by lawmakers in 2011 and updated this year. The law aims to provide charter schools, which do not receive property taxes for facilities, access to vacant buildings. But it remains controversial because traditional public school districts do not want to give facilities to charter schools that will compete for students.
Last month, the IPS Board began the process of selling two of six shuttered school buildings — Raymond Brandes School 65 and Francis Bellamy School 102 — as part of a major overhaul to address a slew of academic and facility challenges.
In their lawsuit, the IPS Board argues it is exempt from the law because of a recent provision that excludes districts that share property-tax referendum funds with charters. In 2021, IPS began sharing funds with charter schools within the district.
But Jenner, the state’s education chief, told the district it is not exempt.
In an Aug. 15 letter, Jenner told IPS Superintendent Aleesia Johnson and Board President Venita Moore that the district is subject to the law and to submit a notice of the building closures by midnight Tuesday.
In the lawsuit, IPS is also asking the court for a preliminary injunction to prevent the Indiana Department of Education from enforcing the law.
Contact WFYI education editor Eric Weddle at [email protected] or call (317) 614-0470.