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Superintendent's dismissal records remain sealed

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NEWS MEDIA UPDATE   ·   ILLINOIS   ·   Freedom of Information   ·   Dec. 8, 2005

NEWS MEDIA UPDATE   ·   ILLINOIS   ·   Freedom of Information   ·   Dec. 8, 2005

Superintendent’s dismissal records remain sealed

  • The state’s high court will not decide whether performance evaluations and disciplinary records should be exempt from release, letting stand a lower court’s decision to keep them private.

Dec. 8, 2005  ·   The Illinois Supreme Court will not take up the issue of whether public employee performance evaluations are public records, which means that a lower court decision that such documents shall remain private is the last word on the issue.

The court had been asked to decide whether records relating to dismissal of a public employee are properly categorized as personnel records, which do not have to be made public under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act. Although a trial court determined in 2004 that the records were not private, an appellate court reversed that decision in August. In refusing to hear the case on Dec. 1, the state’s highest court let stand the appellate decision stand.

After Former Peoria School District Superintendent Kay Royster was placed on administrative leave in July 2004 and eventually fired, the Journal Star in Peoria and its parent company, Copley Press, filed FOI Act requests with the school board for her two performance evaluations and the letter detailing her dismissal. The board denied the request stating that the documents were exempt as part of Royster’s personnel file.

The newspaper sued the school district in September 2004, arguing that the documents should have been public throughout. The Circuit Court in the 10th Judicial Circuit in Peoria agreed, ruling that the board’s explanation to Royster of why she was terminated was “neither a ‘personnel matter’ nor ‘personal information.'” It ordered release of the records and awarded the newspaper attorney fees, which were later reduced.

The school district appealed the decision and the newspaper appealed the reduction of attorney fees. The three-judge panel of the Third District Appellate Court in Ottawa, Ill., unanimously reversed the lower court, defining performance evaluations and disciplinary action as personnel matters exempt from disclosure under the FOI Act. Justice Tom M. Lytton wrote for the unanimous court,”the requested documents are precisely what one would expect to find in a personnel file and are thus per se exempt from disclosure.”

The Illinois Supreme Court refused to hear the case without explanation.

(Copley Press Inc. v. Bd. of Education for Peoria School Dist. No. 150; Media Counsel: Peter Storm, Geneva, Ill.)CZ

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