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Can Advertised Virtual Meetings Still Violate the Sunshine Act?

Friday October 9th, 2020

The Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas recently issued a decision in McGrath v. Board of School Directors of City of Scranton, which involved a school board's violation of the Sunshine Act and Act 15 of 2020.   


At the meeting in question, the school board furloughed 218 employees and terminated their health insurance coverage. The only public notice for the meeting stated that the meeting would be conducted virtually through Zoom and the public could view the meeting on the district's YouTube channel. Prior to the start of the meeting, the district learned that the YouTube livestream was inoperable but proceeded with the meeting anyway. During the meeting, the district began to livestream the meeting on its Facebook page but did not communicate that to the public. It also posted copies of the meeting after the fact. 
 
The judge held that the furloughed employee satisfied her burden of proving that the school board and school district violated Sections 702, 704, and 710.1 of the Sunshine Act and Sections 5741(c) and (f) of Act 15 of 2020 and was entitled to an order temporarily enjoining the school board's actions to furlough and terminate health insurance. The court held that the "public had a right to observe the Board's virtual meeting on September 14, 2020, and to be furnished with advance public notice of the technology to be used to witness that meeting" and that "no member of the public was able to observe the meeting in real time by way of the technology identified for public viewing in the only public notice." 
 
While the decision applies only to the parties involved, it serves as a reminder that township officials must allow the public to view or hear public meetings, including virtual meetings. While townships have the ability to conduct meetings virtually and limit the number of physical attendees at public meetings to comply with the commonwealth’s gathering limits, the public must be notified of how to access the meeting and be able to do so.