Illinois paper continues fight for records related to coach resignations

ILLINOIS — The State Journal-Register has appealed a district court’s decision limiting the release of documents containing information about the resignation of two University of Illinois Springfield softball coaches in 2009.

Following the team’s trip to Florida in spring 2009, which was cut short due to an unknown incident, assistant softball coach Roy Gilmore and head softball coach Joseph Fisher resigned, citing “other opportunities,” the SJ-R has reported.

The newspaper first sued the university under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act in March 2011 after it was denied access to documents relating to the trip.

But two days after the lawsuit was filed, the university released a letter from an attorney representing a student who was paid a $200,000 settlement. The letter, which was highly redacted, suggested that Gilmore committed sexual improprieties involving multiple female students. It also suggested that this was not an isolated incident.

The newspaper is only interested in records related to the school’s investigation and what administrators knew when the coaches resigned — not the identities of the students involved, said Don Craven,, the Springfield attorney representing the SJ-R.

Last month, Jersey County Circuit Judge Eric Pristorius ordered the release of 12 pages of documents to the SJ-R, which contained “nothing of significance,” Craven said. The judge ruled that the remaining documents were protected under the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act and an exemption in the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.

FERPA limits the disclosure of educational records, which many schools have interpreted as all records relating to or mentioning a student. The Illinois exemption withholds documents where policies are formulated or opinions are expressed.

Craven believes that these documents are not exempt under either law. Derek Schnapp, a spokesman for the school, declined to comment.

“We think these are statements from the students themselves,” Craven said. “What did the administrators know when they let the coaches resign? Why did they let the coaches resign? Why shouldn’t they have been terminated?

“They’re not telling us what they knew,” he said. “Are they protecting themselves or do they not want us to know what happened? Do they want the story to go away? I don’t know.”

By Samantha Raphelson, SPLC staff writer. Contact Raphelson by email or at (703) 807-1904 ext. 126.