The West Lafayette Community School Corporation violated the state’s access to public records laws for denying a request for public records, according to a ruling by public access counselor Luke H. Britt earlier this month.
West Lafayette resident Dacia Mumford filed a public records request with the WLCSC on Dec. 3 for the “complete board packet for school board meeting” for Dec. 6, but was denied the next day, the ruling reads.
A board packet’s purpose, according to the ruling, is to provide board members with a “succinct, finite set of documents to review and consider during an open, public meeting.”
Mumford filed a formal complaint on Dec. 13, 2021, alleging WLCSC’s denial violated the Access to Public Records Act, according to the ruling.
In her complaint, she argued that the denial is improper because the WLCSC provided “responsive records to another community member, Mr. Afolabi, whose first name was unmentioned in the filing documents, made a similar request” a month prior to her request.
She also cites an email sent by Mr. Afolabi to the WLCSC, in which he explains that in a phone call with this office, the Public Access Counselor agreed that a request for the board meeting packet is a self-contained set of records.
WLCSC asked Afolabi to specify the list of documents he wanted, and, based on the clarification, they provided him with the requested documents or directed him to the school website where some of the documents were posted online.
“The denial stated that the board packet is not a document and is used to describe various reports, vendor opinions, recommendations and extensive personnel files,” the ruling reads. “For this reason, WLCSC denied the request and invited Mumford to specifically identify the documents that she wished to review.”
Mumford declined to narrow the request, so “WLCSC concluded that it can deny the request because it fails to meet the reasonable particularity requirements established under the APRA.”
“To deny a request for a board packet from a public meeting in its entirety runs contrary to any reasonable interpretation of the access laws,” Britt said in the ruling. “Doubling down on the denial by using specificity as a cudgel is quite outside the bounds of acceptable practice.”
The APRA states that “providing persons with information is an essential function of a representative government and an integral part of the routine duties of public officials and employees, whose duty it is to provide the information.”
After the ruling, Mumford submitted a request for the February school board meeting packet and the school board “quickly complied” with her request, Mumford said in an email sent to The Exponent on Tuesday afternoon.
“This ruling is a big step towards increased transparency for the (West Lafayette) school board,” she said.
Mumford posts school board documents on her website, she said, and according to that site, she said she hopes that “our school board will change their policies and share the school board packet with the community.”
The Exponent has faced a similar issue in the past.
Board packets for multiple Purdue board of trustees meetings were requested by The Exponent in 2021, but none were received, according to previous Exponent reporting.
Purdue spokesperson Tim Doty said, after a June meeting, that the board members receive board packets that contain information on the meeting agendas “well in advance,” giving board members time to study the material and understand issues.
“There’s no reason you can’t be getting a copy at the same time as the trustees,” Steve Key said in a phone call Thursday.
The Exponent plans on filing a request for the next meeting’s board packets, and will file a complaint with Britt if it isn’t honored.