Illinois school board will not release letters requested by candidate

ILLINOIS — A school superintendent has denied a school board candidate’s public records request for letters from parents regarding a debate over curriculum changes, citing the need to protect the families’ privacy.

Crystal Lake School District 47 Superintendent Ronald Miller received several letters from concerned parents in fall 2006 as the district considered curriculum changes that would boost time spent in math and science classes while reducing time devoted to elective courses.

Miller said he shared copies of the letters with the school board, which held a public forum regarding the changes and approved them in December 2006. Several parents, students and teachers voiced their opposition to the changes during meetings before the vote, said Nancy Gonsiorek, Crystal Lake resident and the school board candidate who made the request.

Following the measure’s approval, Gonsiorek said she questioned whether the letters played a significant role in the school board’s decision. She said not knowing who the authors were or what they wrote prompted the request.

“By knowing who sent the letter, you can shed some light on the situation,” Gonsiorek said.

Gonsiorek’s request was denied. Miller wrote in a letter to her that said protecting families’ privacy “outweighs the need to make the correspondence public,” according to the Northwest Herald, a newspaper in Crystal Lake.

The Illinois Freedom of Information Act exempts information that if disclosed, “would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy,” unless the subjects agree in writing to making the information public.

Miller said in an interview that the letters “provided me mostly with a lot of information that was personal,” justifying the disclosure.

The Northwest Herald also filed a request to examine the letters, without disclosing the families’ names, according to the paper. Miller said the district has not decided whether to agree to the newspaper’s request.

Illinois Press Association Attorney Don Craven, who advised the Northwest Herald with its FOIA request, said redacting, or withholding, identities would protect the authors and allow the letters’ content to be made public.

If the concern is the privacy of the families, redact the names, but let us know what the arguments are,” Craven said.

By Jared Taylor, SPLC staff writer