FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION

OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT

 

In the Matter of a Complaint by FINAL DECISION

 

David S. Cohen and Stephen Liacouras,

 

Complainants

 

against Docket #FIC 87-380

 

New Haven Superintendent of Schools and New Haven School Board AIDS Task Force,

 

Respondents May 11, 1988

 

The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on February 2, 1988, at which time the complainants and the respondents appeared, stipulated to certain facts and presented testimony, exhibits and argument on the complaint.

 

After consideration of the entire record, the following facts are found:

 

1. The respondent superintendent is a public agency within the meaning of 1-18a(a), G.S.

 

2. On December 3, 1987 the complainants attempted to attend a meeting of an "AIDS study committee," but were denied access by the respondent superintendent, who claimed that the meeting was not subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

 

3. By letter of complaint filed with the Commission on December 18, 1987 the complainants appealed the actions of the respondent superintendent denying them access to the December 3, 1987 meeting.

 

4. At hearing the complainants requested the imposition of a civil penalty pursuant to 1-21i(b), G.S.

 

5. It is found that in February, 1987 the respondent superintendent sent out letters to certain "teachers, parents and others" soliciting membership in a committee whose task it would be to study the issue of educating children with AIDS with the goal of recommending a policy to the respondent superintendent for adoption by the board of education.

 

Docket #FIC 87-380 Page Two

 

6. The committee which was ultimately formed is composed of 20 members, including the respondent superintendent. Of such members, 3 are parents of children attending school in the New Haven school system, 1 is the president of the local teachers' union and the remainder are teachers in the New Haven school system.

 

7. It is found that in addition to the committee referred to at paragraph 6, above, there is in existence another AIDS study committee which reports directly to the board of education, which committee is chaired by New Haven's supervisor of science education, Robert Conte. Mr. Conte is also a member of the study committee referred to at paragraph 6, above.

 

8. It is noted that throughout the hearing in this matter both Mr. Conte's committee and the committee formed by the respondent superintendent were referred to as "AIDS study committees." For the sake of clarity, the committee formed by the respondent superintendent will be referred to herein as the "respondent task force."

 

9. The respondent superintendent claims that, unlike the AIDS study committee, the respondent task force is "his own" study committee, not a committee of the New Haven board of education, and that it is, therefore, not subject to the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act.

 

10. It is found that the fact that the respondent task force was organized by the respondent superintendent rather than by the board of education does not, without more, exempt the task force from the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act.

 

11. It is found that the parents and union official who are members of the respondent task force are not members of the respondent superintendent's staff, nor are they otherwise employed by the New Haven school system.

 

12. It is further found that the duties and responsibilities of the remaining members of the respondent task force, other than the respondent superintendent, are independent of their duties and responsibilities as teachers in the New Haven school system.

 

13. It is concluded that meetings of the respondent task force are not administrative or staff meetings of a single-member public agency within the meaning of 1-18a(b), G.S.

 

Docket #FIC 87-380 Page Three

 

14. It is found that the respondent task force has been delegated the responsibility of formulating and recommending to the respondent superintendent, for adoption by the New Haven board of education, a policy regarding the education of children with AIDS.

 

15. It is therefore found that the respondent task force is an institution, bureau, board or commission of the City of New Haven and is, therefore, a public agency within the meaning of 1-18a(a), G.S.

 

16. It is concluded that meetings of the respondent task force are public meetings within the meaning of 1-18a(b), G.S., subject to the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act.

 

17. It is further concluded that the respondent superintendent violated 1-21(a), G.S. when he denied the complainants access to the December 3, 1987 meeting of the respondent task force.

 

18. The Commission declines to impose the civil penalty requested by the complainants.

 

The following order by the Commission is hereby recommended on the basis of the record concerning the above-captioned complaint.

 

1. The respondents henceforth shall conduct the meetings of the respondent task force in compliance with the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act, with particular reference to 1-21(a), G.S.

 

Approved by order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its regular meeting of May 11, 1988.

 

 

Catherine H. Lynch

Acting Clerk of the Commission