An open records request made to the Douglas County School District by a group dedicated to education reform sparked outraged public comment during the Sept. 18 school board meeting. Parent Led Reform said its request was based on concerns people had been using district email for political purposes, allegations the district is investigating.
Some of those whose DCSD emails were released to Parent Led Reform categorize the records request as a witch hunt.
“I can only surmise it’s because I’ve had the audacity to stand up and speak out against some of the actions of this board,” said parent Wendy Vogel, among the 19 whose DCSD emails Parent Led Reform requested. “I feel it’s an intimidation technique to try to silence us. I’m just going to tell you it’s not going to work.”
“I feel violated,” said Anne-Marie Lemieux, another parent named in the request. “I felt like my parent/teacher and my parent/principal privilege and trust we had worked years to build was violated. It’s a bullying tactic by this group to intimidate parents and teachers into shutting up.”
But Karin Piper, director of Parent Led Reform, said it’s no such thing.
The 19 people “are politically active parents or individuals that have some form of association” to groups Parent Led Reform believed used district email for political purposes. Piper said the group had received numerous complaints about the alleged emails.
The group filed the first of three open records requests in July, and has had most of the information in electronic format for two months.
“We did find pretty quickly emails we would deem inappropriate,” Piper said.
During the Sept. 5 board meeting, she presented the school board with 98 pages of printed emails she said raise red flags, and asked the board to investigate.
But Piper maintains the group kept a lid on the identities of those included in the request.
“We’ve had this information over two months and we’ve yet to name any names.”
Some people question the time district employees invested culling information to fulfill Parent Led Reform’s request, which included emails sent over nearly a two-year period.
“Why would the district not go back and question whether an organization needs all emails for that time period without any purpose whatsoever specified,” said Susan Meek, vice president of Strong Schools Coalition and one of the 19 individuals named in the request. “I think it’s a perfect example of an abuse of power, a waste of taxpayer resources and trying to keep a lid on anyone asking for information they have every right to ask for.”
Others accused the district of showing favoritism because it did not charge the group for the information.
District legal counsel Rob Ross said DCSD does not charge for electronic files unless it requires staff to do specific added work, such as creating a new document.
Parent Led Reform also has filed another request currently under district review for emails including the key word “Facebook,” Piper said. She would not say why the request was made.
“That is proprietary information to our organization,” she said. “We’re working on a project.”
Under Colorado law, public employees’ emails are considered to be open records, in most circumstances.
The district has received 89 requests filed under the Colorado Open Records Act to date in 2012. Parent Led Reform submitted three of them.