CNPA tweaks Brown Act measure to protect access to public commenter info

A bill by Senator Scott Wilk (R-Santa Clarita) would prohibit a school board’s meeting minutes from reflecting the address of an individual who gives public comment, or a minor’s name unless there is parental consent to the release of the student’s name.

SB 1036 was spurred by a single district’s practice of publishing all names and addresses of public commenters. The issue came to a head when a citizen spoke in a public meeting and later discovered her address had been published in the board’s minutes.

Wilk told the story in a committee hearing: “It came to me from a grandmother who reads with her children. She found a particular book offensive and she went to share that concern with the school district. I wasn’t there, but I was told it’s very contentious. And as a former school board trustee, you know how these things get heated. And she was shocked when she came back to the next meeting and her name and her address is listed in the minutes of the meeting.”

Wilk argued that his bill, which would prohibit the release of student directory information in meeting minutes, would also “prevent privacy issues like this from arising in the future.”

Under current law, the Ralph. M. Brown Act does not require an individual to state her name or provide any other information in order to attend a public meeting. However, if an individual does state her name at a public meeting, it becomes part of the public record. CNPA is concerned that SB 1036 would confuse this issue.

The senator’s office agreed to amend the bill to clarify and ensure that it does not limit the public’s right to access information under the California Public Records Act. The amendments will be added to the bill in the Assembly Education Committee hearing on Wednesday.