DARIEN — The Board of Education unanimously decided to move forward with publishing a log of the Freedom of Information Act requests they receive.
The decision to publish the log was prompted by the number of FOI requests quadrupling in the past year, causing the district to spend tens of thousands of dollars on legal consult. Having a public log of requests would mean individuals wouldn’t have to file FOIA requests to see what other requests had been filed, hopefully cutting down on the number of requests for the district.
“This is codifying a policy procedure that’s already taking place,” said Board Chairman Michael Harman. “What we’ve highlighted is the fact we have this log. It required a FOIA, now it’s a simple request policy to get this information.”
The log would include the name of the requester, their address, date of the request, the volume of the request, the status of it and the details of it. The log will be available from the district upon request, but will not be available online.
The board said they also hoped the log would increase transparency, especially since last year’s FOIA requests cost the district over $100,000 in legal expenses.
The log would also be redacted so it would comply with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. However, members of the RTM Education Committee expressed concerns at their Sept. 18 meeting that the log may discourage people from filing FOIA requests with the district, saying it may be used to “embarrass people.”
“Personally, since it’s directed toward me mainly, I have no problem making my own requests public,” said RTM Education Committee member Jay Hardison. “The reason I have so many is I know what I’m looking for, they’re very pointed requests, as opposed to the Darien News.”
Hardison went on to say the Darien News’ request for the school board’s emails required a lot of sorting through by the district. Darien News asked for all e-mail correspondence between school board members from August 2016
Hardison was named when the board initially proposed the log at a meeting in August, due to the fact he filed 24 of the 33 FOIA requests the district received during the previous school year. The board said Hardison’s requests alone cost the district over $87,000. However, they said the log was to increase transparency and cut down on the number of requests, especially considering the time and money the total number of requests is costing the district.
“I’m happy to make every one of mine public,” he added. “I have nothing to hide. I think it’s a discrimination tactic used to discourage people. I don’t think people are willing to step up. I think most people are not.”
Hardison and other board members said the log may make them hesitant to request information on behalf of their children and worried other community members would feel the same.