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Court says school district survey results are public records

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  1. Freedom of Information

    NMU         TEXAS         Freedom of Information         Jan 29, 2001    

Court says school district survey results are public records

  • A Texas appeals court ruling permits a newspaper to review an annual statistical survey that reports on the effectiveness of school district policies.

In an interesting twist to the usual open records lawsuit, the appeal of a record denial lead to a lawsuit between a school district, opposing the release, and the attorney general, who thought the records were open under state law. A state appeals court agreed with the attorney general and on Jan. 11 ruled to release the records to the requesting newspaper.

The Arlington Star-Telegram approached the school district in March 1998 to request the results of an annual survey of the district staff that measures the effectiveness of existing policies. In accordance with the Texas open records law, the school district sought a ruling from the state attorney general because it wanted to withhold the information from the newspaper. The school district claimed the records were protected from disclosure by an exemption to the open records law that allows agencies to withhold information that would disclose the decision-making processes of the agency if released to the public.

The attorney general ruled the survey results were open under Texas law because the results were compilations of purely factual statistics and did not disclose the decision-making process of the school district. The school district then sued the attorney general in district court, asking the court to declare the attorney general’s opinion an improper interpretation of the statute, which would result in a withdrawal of the ruling.

While that case was pending, the newspaper, school district and attorney general repeated the same exercise the following year when the newspaper asked for the 1999 survey results. The district again requested the attorney general’s opinion, and when it received an unfavorable ruling, filed another lawsuit. The two cases were consolidated and decided on Jan. 11.

When the district court sided with the attorney general’s opinion, the school district appealed to the Texas Court of Appeals (3rd Cir.) in Austin. The appeals court also agreed with the attorney general that records were purely factual material “not distributed in contemplation of new policy” and, therefore, open under the Texas open records law.

(Arlington Independent School District v. Texas Attorney General) CC


© 2001 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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