California's open meeting law will be the subject of a Board of Education study session following allegations that the board may have violated the statute.
A legal adviser will be on hand to answer questions at the Thursday, May 31 meeting, called in response to a letter from Palo Alto Weekly Publisher Bill Johnson stating that weekly confidential memos from Superintendent Kevin Skelly to board members may have led to a violation of the law, known as the Brown Act.
Skelly said Tuesday he does not believe the confidential updates -- which he said he has provided virtually every week in his five years as superintendent -- have led to any violation of the law.
Related story: Weekly calls for halt to confidential school board memos
In a four-page letter to the board May 14, Johnson said it was "clear that the very purpose of (the confidential memos) has been to exclude the public" and that an April 20 memo, which included Skelly's comments about the high school counseling system at Gunn High School, "conveys the thinking and potential actions of district administrators on a subject (counseling) on which you are in the midst of formulating policy."
In the memo Skelly invited trustees to discuss this "sensitive" issue with him further if they desired.
The Brown Act prohibits the majority of members of an elected body from using "a series of communications of any kind, directly or through intermediaries, to discuss, deliberate, or take action on any item of business that is within the subject jurisdiction of the legislative body."
Johnson's letter cited the California state Attorney General's Brown Act handbook, which strongly cautions against confidential communications.
Skelly said Tuesday the school district's legal counsel corroborated his view that the confidential updates are not a Brown Act violation.
"While I believe that there are solid, appropriate reasons for this type of communication, the board, district staff members and I have always known that the great majority of these weekly communications are public records and, as such, are fully open to public scrutiny should they be requested," Skelly said in a statement read aloud at a Board of Education meeting.
"At no time has there been any attempt to keep information from the public or prevent those who inquired about information from receiving it."
That view was disputed by several parent speakers at Tuesday's board meeting, who said an April 6 memo and the subsequent April 20 memo "made it clear the superintendent was going in a different direction" on the counseling issue than had been instructed by the board in a March 27 public meeting.
Parent Ken Dauber called on board members to "restate your commitment" for Gunn to move toward a counseling model similar to the "teacher advisory" model used at Paly a commitment Dauber said had been reflected in board comments at the March 27 meeting.
Dauber is cofounder of a parent group, We Can Do Better Palo Alto, which has lobbied the board for more than a year to implement a Paly-style teacher advisory system at Gunn.
"We have a broken process in which the private process has diverged from the public process," Dauber told the board Tuesday.
Skelly said his staff is working to fulfill nine Public Records Act requests received since April 23 on issues related to confidential memos and high-school guidance counseling.
The requests have come from Dauber, Dauber's wife Michele Dauber, Johnson and Jen Nowell of the Palo Alto Daily Post.
"These documents and the requests are of interest to the larger community," Skelly said, adding that the district has posted them on its website.
The May 31 meeting on the Brown Act, which will be recorded, begins at 1 p.m. in Conference Room A of school district headquarters, 25 Churchill Ave.