County superintendent dismisses complaint against Sheridan School Board

A recent complaint against the Sheridan School Board with the Madison County superintendent of schools alleging possible violations of open meeting law and board policy was dismissed last month on account of a lack of jurisdiction by the county superintendent.

In a motion to dismiss the complaint, attorney Kris Goss explained that the petitioners attempted to frame a decision not to place the Springboard math curriculum on the Jan. 10, school board meeting agenda as a violation of open meeting law. While MCA 2-3-114 provides that a citizen harmed by an alleged violation of open meeting law has a legal right to pursue action in district court, Goss explained that the law specifically excludes an open meeting law violation from being heard by the county superintendent.

“Under Montana Law, the board chair has the ability to set the agenda,” Goss said in an interview last week. “In this case the board chair determined that the January meeting wouldn’t give the board enough time to review the curriculum before placing it on the agenda.”

Goss proceeded to argue that the appeal does not meet the criteria for a contested case, which is defined by Montana law as “any proceeding in which a determination of legal rights, duties or privileges of a party is required by law to be made after an opportunity for hearing.”

In his motion to dismiss Goss said “petitioners have not identified a single statute granting the right to an administrative hearing, nor have (they) alleged the deprivation of a constitutionally protected property interest falling within the county.”

The appeal also alleged the board was not in compliance with Sheridan School District Policy 2311P concerning the selection, adoption and removal of textbooks and instructional materials. Again, the county superintendent lacks jurisdiction because it is a matter of school board policy.

In the motion to dismiss Goss explained that the board in fact was in compliance of the policy to approve the use of instructional materials by virtue of their approval of district warrants at the June 8, 2010 school board meeting.

“By the board approving the purchase of the textbooks, they were in compliance with district policy, and the curriculum associated with those textbooks was properly approved,” Goss said.

In addition to the county superintendent’s lack of jurisdiction, the appeal was filed after the statute of limitations expired. Sheridan School Board chairman Jeffrey Marsh received the request to place the Springboard curriculum on the Jan. 10 meeting agenda on Dec. 27, but the letter to the county superintendent alleging the violations is dated Feb. 6. Petitioners have 30 days from the date the board made the decision to appeal, which expired Jan. 27.

Goss emphasized the importance of the feedback collected from around the community by the school board during the approved public comment period.

“They do understand the concerns and they want to hear from the petitioners, but they want to make sure it’s done appropriately,” Goss said. “The appropriate form is before the Sheridan School Board, not before the county superintendent.”

The Springboard Curriculum was listed on the agenda for public discussion at the March 13 Sheridan School Board meeting.

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