As we reported in our 2014 Legislative Update, a recent law requires every school district that maintains a traditional website to post on that website a mechanism for members of the public to electronically communicate with school board members by April 1, 2015. Below are a few key points about the law to consider as the deadline approaches:
- The law only requires posting of contact information on a traditional website, not a social media website or account like Facebook or Twitter.
- The law does not specifically require posting an email address. Rather, it only requires posting a “mechanism…for members of the public to electronically communicate with elected officials of” the school district. Such a mechanism could be an email address but also could be another method for communicating with the board, such as a “contact us” form on the district website.
- The law is clear that if school board members do not have individual district-issued email addresses, a school district is not required to provide each board member his or her own official email address. It is sufficient that the school district simply post a uniform single email address (either for the board as a whole or the address of an individual board or staff member) to the website, making clear that the entire board can be contacted through that address.
- The law is less clear what a school board must do if board members have individual, official email addresses. There is ambiguous language in the law that arguably requires that the school district post all board member email addresses in that case, as opposed to one uniform single email address. After reviewing the legislative history, however, we believe that the intent of the law was to allow one single email address to be sufficient. Accordingly, if a school district chooses to post a single, uniform email address, it is not required to post the individual, official email addresses for every board member. If a school district is so inclined to post all board member email addresses, however, doing so would comply with the law, as well.
- The law requires that, whatever mechanism of communication the school district chooses to post, it provide a hyperlink to the mechanism that is “easily accessible” from the school district’s home page. So even if a school district already has board contact information on its website, it should ensure that its home page includes an easily accessible link to that information. For instance, a link might be “Contact the Board of Education” and include a hyperlink to the email address.
- The law does not require that the school district or board members respond to inquiries from the public. There may be public relations or policy reasons to reply to communications received through the mechanism, but when, how, and even if a reply is made is within the discretion of the school district.