CHEYENNE, Wyo. – A Wyoming school district is taking a local newspaper to court in an effort to conceal the results of a job satisfaction survey the district gave its employees last June.
Albany County School District 1 filed a lawsuit last week against the local newspaper, Laramie Boomerang. In its lawsuit, the district argues the newspaper has no right to look at un-redacted records of the survey the given to more than 400 teachers and staff members, reports The Republic.
District officials say the surveys contain comments about specific school administrators and other district leaders. Albany officials fear releasing and republishing such information might be libelous, The Republic reports.
The Laramie Boomerang publisher, Jerry Raehal, vowed to continue the fight to make these records public.
“I’m not sure why it’s happened that way,” Raehal said of the recent lawsuit. “But regardless of it, we’re still going to continue to fight for open records whether they sue us or not.”
The school district is arguing that future surveys would be directly affected if the district were to release these results after the respondents were originally ensured confidentiality. (The fact that the survey takers did not sign their names to the questionnaires seems to undercut this concern.)
The district is also citing a federal law that prohibits the release of candid opinions and materials that decision-makers rely upon in reaching decisions. The federal law includes a provision which would restrict the disclosure of records if the custodian believes the release of records would do substantial injury to the public interest.
Wyoming law does not explicitly recognize that exclusion, the news site reports.
The lawyer for the newspaper, Bruce Moats, told The Republic he’s concerned that this episode could hinder future requests of citizens seeking access to public records.
“It’s difficult under any circumstances for an individual to try to get records that are denied to them, just because of the cost.” Moats said. “And now you have the additional thought of, ‘Well, maybe if I ask for the records and indicate that I may fight to get them, that that person may be sued,’ … . There is a concern that could have a chilling effect.”
Moats concerns are more than warranted.
The extreme actions of the school district make us wonder about what exactly is in the survey results and why the district is going to such great lengths to try and hide them.