Counselor: Colleges should meet in public on charter schools

Indiana's public access counselor says trustees at private colleges shouldn't hold meetings in private when they decide whether to authorize public charter schools.

Luke Britt, the state's public access counselor, said in an advisory opinion issued earlier this month that while other meetings of a private university's trustees aren't required to be public, a private college is a public entity when decisions are made regarding authorizing charter schools.

Private authorizers didn't officially know previously that trustees acted as a public entity during meetings to authorize charter schools, meaning that those meetings should have been open to the public, Britt said.

His advisory opinion was issued in reference to Trine University in Angola, which can authorize charter schools. But The Herald-Times of Bloomington reported the opinion would apply to all 30 private institutions the state Legislature has given the authority to oversee charter schools.

That includes Grace College in northern Indiana's Winona Lake, which authorized Seven Oaks Classical School to open in Monroe County.

Grace College's board of trustees held a meeting closed to the public in January to consider authorizing the charter school, and trustees' votes have been kept private.

There were two other attempts by Seven Oaks to open a Monroe County charter school. The state charter school board denied its application in 2014, and last year Seven Oaks withdrew its application before it could be voted on by the board.

Despite Britt's opinion, Grace College continues to refuse requests for minutes and voting tallies from its January meeting.

"It is our understanding via legal counsel that the Open Door Law did not apply to private institutions such as Grace College at the time of our January 13" meeting, Grace College spokeswoman Amanda Banks said in an email.

Britt's opinion is backed up by a change in state law signed last month by Gov. Mike Pence.

That law requires that private schools make meetings on authorizing charter schools public by requiring transfer of authorization authority to another legal entity that the college's trustees oversee. That part of the law goes into effect Jan. 1.

Banks said Grace College will comply with that new law after the end of the year.

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