LORAIN — The school district denied several records requests from The Chronicle-Telegram in an email Thursday — a day after the paper published a story about the district’s slow response to such requests from the paper and other entities.
Other records requests from the paper still are pending.
Three requests were denied, including one regarding standards-based grading; although some emails requested regarding the new grading system were provided. Those provided emails did not include a previously reported email from Chief Equity and Achievement Officer Kenan Bishop to building principals, directors and deans Sept. 7 instructing administrators to delete grades from Power School that had been entered under the previous A-F grading system this school year. That email had been requested separately Sept. 26 after it was shared with The Chronicle.
Josh Hill, chief strategy and innovation officer and district treasurer, said it is up to the district’s attorney, contracted through Ennis and Britton Co., as to what documents are provided following a request.
“To be honest, with them going to the attorney … I’m at her whim as to when they get sent back to me,” he said.
He said he was unsure why the email from Bishop to building administrators would have been pulled from the list, or would not have been included in the technology department’s search of the email accounts. He said he would look into the matter further.
Emails provided were dated Aug. 6 to Sept. 24, and attachments were not included.
Hill said the requests’ delay is caused in part by the attorney reviewing every document — including every email requested — singularly and deciding whether they fall under the purview of Ohio public records laws. Compounded with the volume — which he said has increased since House Bill 70 took effect — requests are taking longer to complete.
“Nobody is holding back information from me,” he said. “It’s really just the main slowdown in all of this for the majority of the requests is the volume. I’m getting so many records requests in the past year. Where something would usually take a week and a half in the past year; it’s difficult. Ultimately, I know I am responsible.”
The district responded to three records requests from The Chronicle-Telegram on Thursday. All three were denied either because they were deemed too broad in date and/or material requested, or they included student information protected by federal privacy laws. He said the document requesting information that could identify students was denied “right away” but said he waited until a group of requests had been filled before sending them over.
Hill said the delays in the other denials may have been caused by the attorney, as responding to requests is worked into her regular case load.
CEO David Hardy said Thursday the district is focusing on running schools, and gets information back to those requesting records as fast as it can.
“Normal rate of return is anywhere from a week to two (weeks) to get things back but some take longer — it seems very simple (but) it’s actually very complicated because we have to send it to our lawyer and then our legal team determines is this an appropriate request, and it’s a lot more than meets the eye,” he said.
Hardy said the process for each request differs, including whether he personally reviews the information being provided. He agreed with Hill, saying the district will try to group responses together rather than send one email here or there.
The district has received requests from media outlets, a law firm representing East Cleveland Schools, its own school board, parents and other organizations. Hardy went on to say that the records requested by the school board are on the district’s website, under The Lorain Promise, with the requests and responses available for the public.
“More importantly I think the focus is trying to figure out how to get out of academic distress, and I try to make sure our folks are focused on that. … Obviously anything that has been fulfilled or not fulfilled we actually have always been in the practice of posting it all on the website,” he said. “Because we also feel like these requests are very singular to a person or an agenda, and we want to make sure that the community at large gets the information. “
While some of those documents are posted, not all requests from the board are available. Requests from August 2017 from the board, shared with The Chronicle-Telegram by board president Tony Dimacchia, include documentation from Atlantic Research Partners, which handled the search for the CEO, as well as expenses in pursuit of a CEO, and other information regarding Hardy’s previous employment or pay scale. Other requests from that month included emails sent or received by Tony Richardson as part of his duties as chair of the Academic Distress Commission.
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