Elementary school district denies two separate FOI requests

ILLINOIS — Anelementary school district has denied two separate Freedom of Information Actrequests this month, sparking debate about what sorts of records schools areobligated to open to the public.

A parent in Hoover-SchrumElementary District 157 in Calumet City, Ill., spoke to the school board therelast week about the district’s denial of his FOI request asking for aclassroom-by-classroom breakdown of students’ scores on the IllinoisStandards Achievement Test. Early this month, the district also denied an FOIrequest filed by The Northwest IndianaTimes, which covers news in both Indiana and Illinois, to obtain theresume of incoming superintendent Rosemary Hendricks.

According to an article in TheTimes, its request came after conflict of interest allegations againstHendricks surfaced. Hendricks, who officially takes office Saturday, is the wifeof the dean of the district’s Schrum Memorial School.

Representatives from TheTimes did not return calls for comment, but in aneditorialabout the school’s refusal to produce the resume, the paperstated: ”The system of government in the United States is made stronger byits checks and balances. When the public is denied access to information likethis, that system is weakened.”

In the editorial, the newspaperalso called for legislatures in both Illinois and Indiana to specificallyinclude resumes as public documents under the states’ openrecords laws.

Scott Sievers, assistant public access counselor inthe Illinois Attorney General’s Office, said theIllinoisFreedom of Information Act is not completely clear as to whetherresumes of public officials can be withheld from the public.Although the law states that ”the disclosure of information that bears onthe public duties of public employees and officials shall not be considered aninvasion of personal privacy,” Sievers said an exemption in the law allowsthe ”personnel files and personal information” of a governmentemployee or applicant of a government job to be withheld.

Sieverssaid that a state appellate court case, CopleyPress Inc. v. Board of Education, also might be applied to the situation.This case included resumes on a list of items that could be foundin a ”personnel file.” However, Sievers said that because the casecentered around written school employee evaluations instead ofresumes specifically, its application to this situation isdebatable.

”I can understand where a public entity might getthe idea where it can withhold a resume, and they do have someauthority to take that position,” Sievers said. ”But the law isactually not ironclad as to whether they’re exempt or not because it hasnot been squarely addressed.”

Representatives fromHoover-Schrum could not be reached for comment. However, another

Timesarticlequoted a statement by current district superintendent Michael Wierzbicki aboutthe second FOI request regarding the parent’s appeal for testscores.

”Please be advised that the Illinois State Board ofEducation, which provides the ISAT test results to the school district, does notprovide a report of test scores for individual teachers and classrooms,”Wierzbicki wrote. ”Accordingly, the school district does not have anydocuments responsive to your request.”

Sievers said Illinoisopen records laws would not require Hoover-Schrum to request such informationfrom the state in order to comply with an open records request.

”Under our law you really only have to produce records thatyou have,” Sievers said. ”So if they don’t have a record toanswer a question posed to them, they don’t have to create a record toanswer it.”