Editorial: Transparency is a concept. Finding on local school task force makes it real

The exterior of the South Bend Community School Corporation Administration building Wednesday, March 23, 2022 in downtown South Bend.

Transparency is just a concept until events make it real, reads a line in a Tribune comment from a few months back.

A recent finding involving the meetings of a local school district's task force is one such moment.

A Tribune story last week by Carley Lanich reported a state official's finding that the South Bend district's facility planning task force should meet in public. The group, formed as a part of an effort to create a long-term plan for building use in a district decreasing in size, has previously met four times in closed session.

School representatives had said they didn't believe the meetings were subject to Indiana's Open Door Law, which sets requirements for public observation and notice of government meetings. The district expressed concern that applying the law to such groups would "chill community involvement."

But Indiana Public Access Counselor Luke Britt, appointed by the governor, said the group is "doing the work of the school corporation" and called it "inappropriate" to do that work in secret. He stopped short of saying previous closed task force meetings violated state law.

More: Indiana officials: South Bend task force assisting school consolidation should meet in public

Britt's finding came in response to a formal complaint filed last month by The Tribune. As we've said before, such complaints are about the public's right to know and, in this case, the public's right to have a seat at the table as its school district — administrators and hired consultants — develop a plan that is likely to include a school closing.

Members of the community should be able to exercise that right, as school leaders say they will comply with a state official's recent finding. And it's worth pointing out that Britt says he's not seen an example in the state where opening up meetings has had a chilling effect on involvement.

That's good to hear, because what really chills involvement is when public officials exclude community members from critical parts of the process.

This article originally appeared on South Bend Tribune: Meetings of South Bend schools task force should be public.