(Thousand Oaks, Ca) In an effort to gain information about communications between fellow board members Sandee Everett and Mike Dunn and Superintendent Mark McLaughlin, Dr. Betsy Connolly made a public records request to the Conejo Valley Unified School District Superintendent’s office on November 9, 2017 at 9:39am seeking the following information according to our public records request:
“I am making a public records request for all communication between or among superintendent’s Office, Mrs. Everett and/or Mr Dunn Regarding BP 6161.1, Everett’s proposed BP Amended 6161.1, Ad Hoc Committee on 6161.1 or superintendent’s alternative assignment policy committee from today back to August 25,2017. Please let me know if there is a particular form required or if this request requires my signature.”
The cost for this record’s request, according to the Conejo Valley Unified School District, was $11,162.
Costs for a public records request come from the General Fund, the same fund used to finance the daily operational costs of schools.
To clarify, BP 6161.1 is the Core Literature Policy, which has gained attention across Conejo Valley over the last year. The policy was approved 3-2 with John Andersen, Sandee Everett, and Mike Dunn, in favor and Betsy Connolly and Pat Phelps opposed. It was Connolly who sought information about Everett and Dunn’s activity with Superintendent Mark McLaughlin about the policy.
The Core Literature Policy formalized that students who would like to receive an alternate assignment with regard to certain literature, may obtain an alternate assignment from their literature teacher. The policy states that students do not have to provide a reason. However, some suggested reasons could be a book with mature sexual content that could be traumatic to someone who has been the victim of a sexual assault. Opponents of the policy state that the way it is written is equivalent to censorship.
Connolly, who sits to the immediate left of Mike Dunn, to the immediate right of Mark McLaughlin, and two chairs away from Sandee Everett, could have elected to ask fellow board members and the superintendent for the information. She instead requested the information through the formal, public record’s request.
Connolly criticized fellow board member, John Andersen, in May after a public records request he made resulted in an expense of $1,060, a fact she exposed in her public comments at the Board meeting on May 8, 2018, nearly 7 months after her more expensive request. With a near $200 Million budget, $1,000 is .0005% of the total budget.
Andersen defended his decision stating that as President he believed he had the discretion to investigate the reason that the California Department of Education made changes to its annotation because it might impact the re-draft of the policy that was required since it was not made clear why the CDE removed the annotation from their site. The CDE was referenced in The Acorn newspaper stating that the annotation was removed ,”as part of a regular review process and was not specifically in response to the way in which it had been used in Conejo Valley Unified.” However, Andersen was proven correct in his assumption. The public records request contained emails that specifically referenced the removal as a direct result of CVUSD’s policy.
The Voice La Voz reached out to Andersen for comment about the $11,162 request. Andersen stated, “As Board President this past year, I was informed about the PRA requests submitted by both individuals and organizations. It was apparent to me that many of them were politically-motivated witch hunts. I believe the community would be well-served if the CVUSD begins publishing every PRA request (including the requestor’s name), and its cost, so the community can see how tens of thousands of dollars are being redirected from the classroom.”
Background to the California Public Records Act
The California Public Records Act (the PRA) was enacted in 1968 to: (1) safeguard the accountability of government to the public; (2) promote maximum disclosure of the conduct of governmental operations; and (3) explicitly acknowledge the principle that secrecy is antithetical to a democratic system of “government of the people, by the people and for the people.”
Public Access v Right to Privacy
According to the California Attorney General’s website,
Right To Monitor Government
- In enacting the CPRA, the Legislature stated that access to information concerning the conduct of the public’s business is a fundamental and necessary right for every person in the State.A. Cases interpreting the CPRA also have emphasized that its primary purpose is to give the public an opportunity to monitor the functioning of their government.B. The greater and more unfettered the public official’s power, the greater the public’s interest in monitoring the governmental action.
The Right Of Privacy
Privacy is a constitutional right and a fundamental interest recognized by the CPRA. Although there is no general right to privacy articulated in the CPRA, the Legislature recognized the individual right to privacy in crafting a number of its exemptions. Thus, in administering the provisions of the CPRA, agencies must sometimes use the general balancing test to determine whether the right of privacy in a given circumstance outweighs the interests of the public in access to the information. If personal or intimate information is extracted from a person (e.g., a government employee or appointee, or an applicant for government employment/appointments a precondition for the employment or appointment), a privacy interest in such information is likely to be recognized.
However, if information is provided voluntarily in order to acquire a benefit, a privacy right is less likely to be recognized. Sometimes, the question of disclosure depends upon whether the invasion of an individual’s privacy is sufficiently invasive so as to outweigh the public interest in disclosure.
Scope of Coverage
- Public Record Defined
Identifiable Information: The public may inspect or obtain a copy of identifiable public records. Writings held by state or local government are public records. A writing includes all forms of recorded information that currently exist or that may exist in the future. The essence of the CPRA is to provide access to information, not merely documents and files. However, it is not enough to provide extracted information to the requestor, the document containing the information must be provided. In order to invoke the CPRA, the request for records must be both specific and focused. The requirement of clarity must be tempered by the reality that a requester, having no access to agency files or their scheme of organization, may be unable to precisely identify the documents sought.
Thus, writings may be described by their content. To the extent reasonable, agencies are generally required to assist members of the public in making focused and effective requests for identifiable records. One legislatively-approved method of providing assistance is to make available an index of the agency’s records. A request for records may be made orally or in writing. When an oral request is received, the agency may wish to consider confirming the request in writing in order to eliminate any confusion regarding the request.
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