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Judge refuses to extend language of FOIA exemption

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  1. Freedom of Information

    NMU         ARKANSAS         Freedom of Information         Jul 6, 2000    

Judge refuses to extend language of FOIA exemption

  • A school district violated the state’s Freedom of Information Act by barring the public from a student’s suspension hearing, a circuit judge decided in June.

A circuit judge in Jonesboro on June 30 refused to allow a school board to close student suspension hearings — which would have extended an open meetings exception beyond the letter of the law — in spite of his belief that the Legislature had not intended to leave the meetings open.

“I know the Legislature did not intend to do this,” Judge John Fogleman told the Associated Press. But, he added, “If it is to be changed, it is to be changed by the General Assembly and not this court.”

Student Justin Redman was suspended because of an Internet posting he made in May that was critical of some of the school’s faculty and students. Court documents said the posting showed no hint of violence.

The Valley View School Board upheld Redman’s suspension at a June 13 hearing, which was closed to the public at his parents’ request.

The following day, The Jonesboro Sun newspaper filed the suit against the school district, pointing out that the state Freedom of Information Act explicitly closes expulsion appeals but not suspension appeals.

Furthermore, the newspaper argued, the statutes covering discipline in public schools define and distinguish suspensions from expulsions.

Price Marshall, who represented the newspaper, said he expects the judge will void the actions taken by the board in the closed session.

(The Jonesboro Sun v. Valley View School District, Media Attorney: Price Marshall, Jonesboro, Ark.) DB

© 2000 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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