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WCSD Administration building, (Photo: KUNR)

WCSD Trustee Sues District Over Concealment Of Public Records

District defends decision to withhold public documents from Trustee Jeff Church and the public

By Megan Barth, December 7, 2023 12:36 pm

There have been numerous reports on the difficulties of obtaining public information from school districts throughout Nevada. In fact, unelected school district staff have, in many cases, awarded themselves more power than the elected Board of Trustees.

The Washoe County School District (WCSD) is the latest school district to empower district staff and withhold pubic information from the public–specifically an elected Trustee, Jeff Church, who represents District A.

In response to the district’s concealment of public records, Church filed a lawsuit against the district on December 5 (see PDF below) that alleges the district is in violation of NRS statutes.

The lawsuit stems from a July 25th public board meeting and pointed exchange between Board of Trustees President Beth Smith and Trustee Church.  The board was voting on an appointee to the Safe and Healthy Schools Commission. The short deliberation and exchange begins at the 1:08 mark in the video below.

During his remarks, Church notes that he had requested, but not received, all applications for an opening on the Safe and Healthy Schools Commission. The volunteer committee was formed after the 2013 Sparks Middle School shooting where a student shot and injured students before killing a teacher and himself.

On August 4th, 2023, Church filed an open records request to obtain the applications.

Ultimately, the district refused, noting:

Given the personal nature of the requested information, the release of said information is likely to result in harassment, endangerment, risk of mistreatment or similar harm, especially given the current political climate surrounding said positions. Further, the District’s process seeks to prevent such harassment, endangerment, risk of mistreatment or similar harm in order to recruit qualified applicants for volunteer positions on public bodies. Releasing said information and treatment of such applicants would negatively impact the District’s ability to recruit and receive applications from qualified volunteers.

Further, to the extent the requested records are protected by the deliberative process privilege, those records will not be provided as the District’s interests in preventing the disclosure of such predecisional and deliberative records, which fostered frank and candid exchanges of opinions and recommendations, are not outweighed by the public’s right to inspect or copy them.

During the July meeting, the district’s chief legal counsel, Neil Rombardo, said that a revised policy related to committee appointments was created to save the board time, increase the amount of applicants, and noted that publishing their applications on the public record would have a “chilling effect” on finding volunteers to serve on various committees.

Yet, Annie Zucker’s application was added to the public record for the July meeting. Second, the application expressly notes that the application is a public document. Furthermore, the district can redact any personal information in the application.

In the lawsuit, Church’s attorney, Luke Busby, writes that “while personal details like home address or personal phone numbers may be redacted, the professional qualifications and viewpoints of applicants to a public body are a matter of public interest.”

Busby further notes, “The fear of hypothetical harassment does not outweigh the public’s interest.”

“I’m an elected trustee. If I ask for the applications, there’s nothing in the policy that says I shouldn’t get them,” Church said. “I don’t know until I see them if there is cause to make motion to review the other applications.”

Ultimately, the board approved Annie Zucker for the appointment to the commission with Trustee Church and Trustee Colleen Westlake voting against the appointment.

Church Petition FINAL
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Megan Barth
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