- Associated Press - Monday, March 29, 2021

GULFPORT, Miss. (AP) - When the Harrison County School Board was deciding whether to reopen schools during the summer after months of coronavirus-related closures they violated the state’s Open Meetings Act, the state’s Ethics Commission ruled.

The Sun Herald reported Monday that the ethics body said the school board did not record minutes during a July 13, 2020 work session and did not make documents given to school board members at the session available to the public ahead of time. Both of those failures constituted violations of the state’s 1972 Open Meetings Act, the commission ruled. The Act requires government entities to meet in public and to provide notice of the meetings so the public can attend although there are some, limited exceptions to the Act.

The board met during a work session to prepare the district’s plan to return students to school. The plan was then voted on during a school board meeting later that same day, the newspaper reported. The board voted to reopen schools without giving kids an option to study remotely except in rare circumstances. That sparked an outcry from parents, and thousands of them signed a petition asking for an option that would allow their children to study from home. The board later changed their reopening plan to allow for distance learning.

A parent who has been a vocal critic of the board‘s leadership during the pandemic filed a complaint a few days after the July 13 meeting. Aldon Helmert, who later ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the school board, said he had been frustrated while trying to address the board.

Superintendent Roy Gill told the newspaper in an email that they didn’t know there were any violations in connection with the work session. He said they’ve reviewed the commission‘s findings and will adhere to the order.

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