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Attorney General: Higher ed board in violation

BISMARCK -- A North Dakota State Board of Higher Education meeting with an accreditation agency last spring violated open meetings law, according to an attorney general's opinion issued Monday.

BISMARCK - A North Dakota State Board of Higher Education meeting with an accreditation agency last spring violated open meetings law, according to an attorney general’s opinion issued Monday.

 

The opinion said the Higher Learning Commission’s interview with the SBHE on April 28 violated open meetings law because the notice and agenda for the meeting posted online had vague language and was "misleading."

 

"Although the agenda posted by (the North Dakota University System) gives the date, time and location of the interview, it specifically stated that ‘Board business would not be discussed,’" Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem wrote in the opinion. "The notice contained an extensive list of those to be interviewed along with the interview schedule but failed to sufficiently specify the topics to be considered and discussed during the interviews."

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Spokeswoman Linda Donlin said the State Board thought the meeting was posted properly because the Higher Learning Commission had called the meeting. Stenehjem writes it was the responsibility of the University System to properly notify the public regardless of who called the meeting.

 

"Any time a quorum of the SBHE meets regarding the SBHE’s ‘public business’ it is a meeting," according to the opinion.

 

The board must post "detailed minutes" of the meeting and individual board member accounts of conversations had during the gathering online in order to remedy the violation. If these actions are not taken within seven days, civil action could be taken.

 

Donlin said the board didn’t take minutes at that meeting but plans to comply with the opinion’s requirements.

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"We thought we followed everything as we should have, but the attorney general had another opinion, and we will do exactly what he said we needed to do," she said.

 

Open records

 

Stenehjem also issued an opinion saying Minot State University violated the law by denying open records requests.

 

The opinion states Chad Nodland, editor of NorthDecoder.com, requested records and communications between the school and the U.S. Department of Education concerning the department’s investigation into possible Title IX violations and the handling of sexual abuse complaints.

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On behalf of Minot State, the North Dakota University System denied the request based on a federal act that protects student privacy.

 

But the opinion states the university system "did not initially conduct a review of the responsive records to determine whether ‘personally identifiable information’ could be redacted before denying the records request."

 

The request was eventually filled before the opinion was issued, so Minot State does not have to take further action.

 

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