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SDHSAA approves transparency

PIERRE -- The board of directors for the South Dakota High School Activities Association decided Tuesday to approve and adopt an official policy on open meetings and records.

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“Effective immediately,” chairman Darren Paulson, of Rapid City, said after the pair of 7-0 votes.

The policy is patterned after state laws on open meetings, but doesn’t cover records beyond the documents used at meetings.

Legislators meanwhile plan to move forward with a committee hearing Thursday on SB 90.

That measure, sponsored by Sen. Corey Brown, R-Gettysburg, would make the activities association subject to South Dakota’s open meetings and public records laws.

Brown’s bill coupled with an uproar from school district officials across South Dakota in recent months promoted the association to consider the policy.

The association’s board held a special meeting last week and a special meeting this week solely to discuss operating with more openness.

As recently as January, the directors and Executive Director Wayne Carney refused to provide audience members with copies of documents being considered by the board on whether schools have shortcoming on hosting state-level events.

The new policy calls for 24-hour meeting notice, posting of the agenda and making all meeting documents available on the SDHSAA’s website ahead of time.

There are standard exceptions similar to state law for documents dealing with executive session matters such as matters involving a specific student.

The SDHSAA directors established a subcommittee Tuesday to work with their staff and legal counsel to put the new open-meeting policy into the association’s constitution.

The full board of eight directors will consider the proposed amendment at their regular March 5 meeting. They will decide that day on the final form of the constitutional amendment.

The proposed amendment then would be submitted to the association’s 180 schools for action at the April 22 annual state meeting.

“According to our constitution, it has to be approved by 60 percent of our member schools,” director Rick Weber of Flandreau said.

A lawyer for the association, Lindsey Riter-Rapp, of Pierre, has told the board she considers the association to be a voluntary, non-profit organization.

That statement is repeated in the first line of the resolution passed Tuesday.

A chapter of state law titled “High School Activities Association” covers its activities.

The association’s leadership has sought legislative approval on various matters in the past decade ranging from concussions and suspensions to funding for the association’s foundation.

Legislation this year is under consideration regarding a change in suspension schedule.

Unresolved is the degree to which the association is a public body. Many legislators think it is or should be because public schools are involved and public funds and public facilities are used.

Complicating the answer is that private schools are members, too.

SDHSAA Director Todd Trask, of Wall, said adoption of the open meeting and public-record legislation will serve to make the association a public organization.

“That’s going to affect us in a big way if that happens,” Trask told the other directors. “If it passes and that is the case, it has the potential to affect us in a big way -- a big way.”

The legislation might not have reached final action before the March 5 board meeting.

Director Jason Uttermark, of Aberdeen, said the board’s proposed constitutional amendment should be aligned to the legislation as best possible.

Uttermark said it’s fine if the Legislature wants to pass its proposed law but he favors SDHSAA adopted the constitutional amendment.

“It’s another step. It shows good faith to the Legislature,” Uttermark said.

Carney said the past practice for many years was to provide a meeting packet of documents to each director approximately a week before each meeting.

He said that was to accommodate the directors’ schedules, so that they had time to review the materials before driving to the meeting.

Riter-Rapp told the directors all sides would be on the same page if the meeting materials become available to the schools and the general public at the same time that directors receive them or at least 24 hours before the meeting.

“That’s not an issue,” Carney said.

The resolution is the basis for the amendment that will be offered.

“Looking at the resolution, I can see it become the amendment, with very little if any change,” Weber said.