FHSAA reverses course, will now livestream Friday board meeting

Fleming Island running back Timothy Thomas breaks free from Atlantic Coast defenders in the first quarter last season. Fleming Island won the game 41-17. (Ralph D. Priddy, Contributed photo)
Fleming Island running back Timothy Thomas breaks free from Atlantic Coast defenders in the first quarter last season. Fleming Island won the game 41-17. (Ralph D. Priddy, Contributed photo)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Days after saying that it didn’t plan to stream a make-or-break board of directors meeting, the Florida High School Athletic Association reversed course and now plans to make it publicly available in what should be in front of a massive online audience.

The FHSAA will vote on the specifics of the fall sports season at the meeting at 10 a.m. in Gainesville. Attendance will be permitted at the event, but is capped at 50 due to limits on public gatherings due to COVID-19. Once board members and potential FHSAA staff had been seated, in-person attendance by those looking to attend would have been minimal.

The FHSAA initially said that it had no plans on having a stream of the event, a decision that angered many across the state. That pressure is likely what made the association buckle.

That came after two emergency board of directors votes that were publicly streamed to audiences that numbered in the thousands. The first vote kept the fall sports calendar unchanged. The second vote three days later changed that and said that sports practices couldn’t begin until at least Aug. 24.

“The Association has decided to livestream the meeting,” FHSAA public relations specialist Ashton Moseley said in an email. “The details of the stream are being worked out and once it is set, we will have an announcement for that.”

The Orlando Sentinel’s Buddy Collings was the first to report news of the association’s reversal. Executive director George Tomyn told the Sentinel last Friday that the normal board meetings are, by protocol, not streamed or broadcast, and the FHSAA isn’t a “broadcasting company.”

While that may be typical of previous board meetings, this one carries significant interest for high school athletes, coaches and parents. That initial decision immediately brought into question Florida’s Sunshine Law, which grants access to government proceedings of public boards or commissions. The FHSAA, while not a government agency, abides by the Sunshine Law. Opening the meeting up for public comment and having a limited audience was the association’s stance last week.

Pamela C. Marsh, president of the First Amendment Foundation in Tallahassee, said that restricting access in person due to whatever parameters exist — in this case, caps on attendance due to COVID-19 — is one thing, but that the FHSAA would need to “provide additional means of real-time participation.”

“This Board is required to comply with the Sunshine Law, which (as you know) requires that meetings be open to the public. Boards and commissions must hold meetings in facilities of sufficient size to accommodate the anticipated turnout, and if a large turnout is expected, reasonable steps must be taken to accommodate those who wish to attend,” Marsh said in an email to News4Jax. “The fact that a meeting is held in a public room does not make it public within the meaning of the Sunshine Law; for a meeting to be “public,” the public must be given advance notice and provided with a reasonable opportunity to attend.

“Due to the Board’s knowledge that the matter is of significant public interest, the Board should plan for high attendance and provide additional means of real-time participation.”

Three options have been discussed for the season, including one that allows the sports calendar to begin Aug. 24 with practice (preferred by coaches) and another that pushes the start back to Nov. 30 (preferred by the athletic director advisory committee).

FHSAA board member Lauren Otero told News4Jax last week that the event should be streamed to be transparent, and that she was shocked that it wouldn’t be.

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