Redaction as a Transparency Avoidance Strategy in NJ School District
Edward L. Birk Nov 17, 2022 in Media Law
Public schools live in a weird place where records are concerned. While they run on public funds, they also have a duty to maintain privacy in certain situations — and in others they just want to maintain privacy.
Have you ever received heavily redacted records from a public agency?
If something seems off about the redactions in a fulfilled request, don’t just sit on your hands. Sometimes, it is worth challenging them.
In Monmouth County, NJ, a school district parent filed a lawsuit last summer. The mother had originally become an intense critic of the district after some portable classrooms at an elementary school were deemed unsafe.
Her criticism mounted after a football hazing scandal emerged in November, perhaps adding fuel to the fire for a transparency-pursuing lawsuit.
The concerned mother asked for documents surrounding this incident and other issues, including:
- Board meeting minutes
- Emails and communications between board and staff members
- School attorney invoices
When she received the documents, she noticed that a large amount of viable information seemed to be redacted. In total, she counted 55 redactions believed to be unwarranted.
This brought about the June 2021 lawsuit.
About a year and a half later, a county judge agreed that 25 of the redactions were unjustified.
The school district filled in that parent with the missing information within a few days.
Let this be a lesson: If you’re unsure about redacted records, don’t be afraid to ask for legal help! Redactions can be mishandled for a number of reasons, from sloppiness to secrecy. You don’t have to accept all redactions at face value.
I represent news media, bloggers, publishers, and citizens interested in government access, and others who operate under the First Amendment—public records; public meetings; newsgathering; avoiding defamation lawsuits; suing Anti-SLAPP violators. My job is to help you get the records and access you need, help you get the story, help you get the story without getting arrested, help get the story published without defaming anyone, and then defend the story after publication.
If you need help with any of these areas and don’t have an attorney already, contact me: [email protected]. This post is not intended to be legal advice and does not form the basis of a lawyer-client relationship.Share