After learning that the Huntsville School Board was close to violating a court order, Huntsville School District Superintendent Audra Kimball scheduled a last-minute training session held Monday night after the board’s regular meeting.

As part of a lawsuit in which the school board admitted to multiple Freedom of Information Act violations, Madison County Circuit Judge Doug Martin directed the board to receive FOIA training by Feb. 13. 

However, on the morning of Feb. 14, when contacted by The Record, Kimball said the date for the training “has not been set but will be in the near future.”

Kimball was surprised to learn that the training was to be complete by Feb. 13. She told The Record that she did not know the court had directed the board to complete the training within 60 days. 

“We will be getting it set up as quickly as we can,” she said when The Record alerted to her to the potential court-order violation. 

“I will get with our attorney and go over that very quickly,” Kimball said. 

Late afternoon on Feb. 14, Kimball emailed board members and The Record that a FOIA training had been scheduled immediately after Monday’s board meeting. 

The court order, which was part of a FOIA lawsuit brought against the district last summer, stated, “The Court requires that the Huntsville Public School Board of Education receive training in the Freedom of Information Act, and in particular its open meeting provisions by a person knowledgeable in the Freedom of Information.”

The school district’s attorney, Charles Harwell, who represented the district in the FOIA lawsuit also conducted the training that lasted less than an hour. Harwell began the training session acknowledging that the board was not in compliance with the timeline in that 60 days had expired.

“I’m going to take the blame for the fact that we pulled this together today,” Harwell said.  

The order was signed by Martin and “filed for record” on Dec. 15, 2021.

Benjamin Rightsell sued the Huntsville School District and the board last summer alleging it violated FOIA on several occasions.

The school board admitted to multiple FOIA violations by holding special meetings throughout the year without contacting the press and by not recording those meetings, by conducting school business as board members through text messages and not in public, and attending training sessions without contacting the press and without recording those meetings. 

Fort Smith Attorney Joey McCutchen, who represents Rightsell said, “I think the importance in complying with the court order in this regard is paramount. They’ve obviously violated FOIA on numerous occasions and they need training. And every day that goes by that they don’t receive training is a day that there could be more potential violations of the Freedom of Information Act.”

McCutchen said on Monday when told that the board did not hold its training session within 60 days as required by the court, “If they [board members] do it quickly, it mitigates that somewhat. But you just don’t violate court orders. You just don’t do it. If the court tells you to do it in 60 days, you do it within 60 days, period.” 

In the agreed order, in addition to the training, the court enjoined the board from further FOIA violations.