The purpose of Open Meeting Law is to define and enforce the rules of how public bodies operate, with a view to balancing transparency and efficiency.
On October 28, 2021, The Massachusetts Attorney General’s Division of Open Government issued a determination which, for the first time, formally addressed whether a SEPAC as a whole, or the leadership group of a SEPAC, is a public body that must comply with the Open Meeting Law, as follows:
"By law, membership in a SEPAC is open to “all parents of eligible students and other interested parties.” 603 CMR 28.07(4). We have concluded that a body with such a fluid makeup, which has an ever-changing membership and quorum, and which carries out its role based on whoever attends a particular meeting or participates in a particular vote, is not the type of body to which the Open Meeting Law applies. Although it is possible a SEPAC could structure itself in such a way as to satisfy the criteria for being considered a public body subject to the Open Meeting Law, all of the SEPACs we have reviewed have been determined not to be public bodies and not subject to the Open Meeting Law.
Through its bylaws, a SEPAC may establish a leadership or governing committee. Whether that group of officers is a public body that must comply with the Open Meeting Law depends on whether the group is structured in such a way as to allow for collective action to be taken by the leadership group, or whether the officers merely perform an administrative function on behalf of the SEPAC as a whole. Leadership groups that are not structured in such a way as to allow for collective action, but rather that merely perform an administrative function on behalf of the SEPAC as a whole (such as scheduling and running meetings, relaying information between the membership and school officials, sharing resources, and planning programs), are not public bodies under the Open Meeting Law. Most SEPACs whose bylaws we have reviewed do not invest their officers with independent authority to take collective action, and therefore are not subject to the Open Meeting Law. For further discussion and examples, see OML 2021-150.
A SEPAC may, through its own bylaws, choose to specify that all meetings of the full membership and/or of the group of officers shall be held in accordance with the provisions of the Open Meeting Law."
The full determination, OML 2021-150, is available here.
Needham SEPAC is currently evaluating this determination in conjunction with our bylaws, and will provide an update here and at a monthly meeting once available.