Darien school board continues debate on exposing FOI requests
DARIEN — After calling out a Darien resident for requesting tens of thousands of dollars worth of documents and accusations of bullying, the board of education is still unclear as to whether or not they want to publicly publish a log of the Freedom of Information Act requests they receive.
The board discussed a proposed policy which would allow the superintendent to maintain an online log of all FOIA requests, including who was requesting what information, when the information was requested and when the request was fulfilled.
The policy came in light of the board’s last meeting where they revealed Darien resident Jay Hardison had made 24 FOI requests since last September, making up a majority of the 46 requests the district has received since then and costing the town nearly $100,000 in legal fees.
The board hopes in bringing this log to light that it will increase transparency particularly to where it pertains to the budget for FOI requests, as well as the staff time it takes to increase these requests.
However, some in town feel the reveal of who’s making these requests, specifically the calling out of Hardison, is an intimidation tactic on the board’s end.
“I’m in favor of the log,” said Dennis Maroney, who also serves as the head of the RTM education committee. “Having said that, I think the log needs to be informational. At the last board meeting, there was information tossed around in bullying manner at individuals with FOIA requests. It seemed to be a bullying tactic and I don’t think that should be the purpose of FOIA log.”
Concerns about protecting the people making the FOI requests, particularly parents requesting their children’s information, were part of the reason the board decided to hold on passing the first draft of the policy. According to attorney for the district, Thomas Mooney, information pertaining to children and parents is protected under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act and thus would have to be edited out of any public log.
There was also debate over how to release the log and when to update it. While the majority of the board was in favor of the log, the policy is going to be revisited over several concerns, including whether or not publishing the log would make sense and truly publicize the information, especially if the number of requests dips back down to the single digits as they’d been in school years prior. However, the board generally agreed transparency is of the utmost in importance as they continue to spend thousands of dollars processing FOI requests.
“Everyone is allowed to FOI all our public documents,” said board vice-chair Elizabeth Hagerty-Ross. “We just need to know how it affects the working of our district. For us to have an FOI log is good practice...It’s not about dollars…We need to discuss it in terms of how does it affect our work productivity. Whether we post it or not, we need to be transparent about how much time, money and effort it’s taking up.”