Transparency in Madison’s $500M+ Taxpayer Supported K-12 School District: Open Records Suppression edition

Scott Girard:

An anonymous Madison School District resident is suing the district over its refusal to provide records in response to 26 requests made over a three-and-a-half month period earlier this year.

The John Doe is being represented by attorney Tom Kamenick, the president and founder of the Wisconsin Transparency Project. The lawsuit filed Nov. 14 in Dane County Circuit Court asks the court to mandate the release of the records and award Doe at least $100 for each of the 48 counts it alleges against the district in addition to attorney fees.

According to the lawsuit, between July 10 and Oct. 31 Doe filed requests seeking documents related to administration’s weekly updates with board members, curriculum plans, school improvement plans and the annual seclusion and restraint report, among other topics.

Despite spending far more than most taxpayer supported K-12 school districts, Madison has long tolerated disastrous reading results.

The School District Administration is planning a substantial tax and spending increase referendum for the fall, 2020 election.

Ed Treleven:

The records requested between July and October have included such things as the “weekly update” document provided by the district to School Board members; School Improvement Plans for the 2019-20 school year; the district’s K-12 sequential curriculum plan; the “Inequitable Distribution of Teachers Report,” all reports regarding notification and reporting following use of seclusion or physical restraint; annual licensure certifications; among other documents.

Bill Lueders, president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, said the state open records law clearly states that no request can be denied because of anonymity, and that the district’s denials “are clearly illegal.”

“It may be that the district is relying on a case decided a few years back in which a court agreed that a custodian could deny a request from a known harasser,” Lueders said. But that does not give MSD the right to reject anonymous requests.”

He said the district should admit it was wrong and settle the lawsuit, “otherwise taxpayers will be on the hook for legal costs that should never have been incurred.”