School Board Takes FOIA Class In Move Separate From Lawsuit

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FORT SMITH (KFSM) -- It was a plain PowerPoint presentation, but no one was watching the clock.

The Fort Smith School Board got some training tonight on the Freedom Of Information Act.

"I think we're all very intent on following the regulations," explained Deanie Mehl, the President of the school board, "I think people were definitely paying attention because we don't want to make mistakes."

It's a move Mehl says is not related to the lawsuit over an alleged violation of the freedom of information act by the Fort Smith School Board.

"I think we all felt we had an understanding of (FOIA), but we just wanted more training to prevent further mistakes or violations."

The lawsuit claims the board elected officers in a discussion via private email instead of during public meetings. Though the board claims the email exchanges did not constitute a meeting, Mehl admits it's possible the board made some sort of mistake.

"As we've learned, there are some nuances to the law. And we want to be sure we're totally transparent in following regulations."

The class lasted about an hour with a professor of legal studies from Arkansas Tech doing the teaching.

Thomas Pennington, the teacher, said, "It's an extremely good statute -- it's one that can become complex and there are certain instances where the answer to the question is going to be dependent upon the fact of an individual case."

Along with fellow board members, Mehl took notes and asked questions. She says she learned a lot.

"I, for one, will print out this PowerPoint and study it again. I may watch the tape and take some notes because there are some finer points that were presented that I was not aware of."

An hour of learning and another hour passed in the on-going legal battle between trial lawyer, Joey McCutchen and the Fort Smith School Board.