FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION
OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT
In the Matter of a Complaint by FINAL DECISION
Deborah Stevenson-Michener, Alison Brion, Carol DeMasi, Ilene Traiger and Joseph Shapiro,
against Docket #FIC 90-273
State of Connecticut, Department of Education, Home Instruction Committee (HIC),
Respondent(s) February 27, 1991
The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on November 1 and December 5, 1990, at which time the complainants and the respondent appeared, stipulated to certain facts and presented testimony, exhibits and argument on the complaint. Docket #FIC 90-308 and 90-334 were consolidated for hearing with the above-captioned matter.
After consideration of the entire record, the following facts are found and conclusions of law are reached:
1. By letter of complaint originally filed with the Commission on July 24, 1990, the complainants alleged that the respondent violated 1-21, G.S., because it held secret meetings, failed to timely file minutes and record votes, violated the public's right to speak at its meetings, and did not properly vote on its report concerning home instruction (hereinafter "report").
2. In their July 24, 1990 letter the complainants also alleged that the respondent failed to respond to their July 1, 1990 written request for additional hearings and meetings between the respondent and the State Board of Education (hereinafter "Board"), and to be placed on the agenda for any additional meetings.
3. By letters of addendum filed August 6, 13, and 17, 1990, the complainants also alleged that the respondent failed to respond to their July 12 and August 8, 1990 requests for a copy of the respondent's report.
Docket #FIC 90-273 Page 2
4. By letter of addendum filed September 5, 1990, the complainants further alleged that the respondent failed to fully comply with their August 21, 1990 request for copies of the minutes of all of the respondent's meetings and all correspondence to the respondent, including correspondence regarding the respondent's report.
5. The complainants requested the imposition of civil penalties, and a declaration of null and void for all action taken by the respondent, including the creation of the respondent committee's report.
6. The respondent claims that it is not a public agency as defined by 1-18a(a), G.S., and that its proceedings are therefore exempt from the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act (hereinafter "Act").
7. The respondent also maintains that with respect to the complainants' other allegations: the public was given the opportunity to speak at the respondent's meetings despite the inapplicability of the Act; the complainants are without standing to assert that rights of the respondent committee members were violated; the report was provided as soon as it was available for distribution; and the complainants were given all correspondence which could be released to them.
8. It is found that at a February 1990 Board meeting a committee of State Department of Education staff members produced a report concerning home instruction programs in Connecticut.
9. It is found that the Board determined that additional review and appraisal of the statewide process for improving and approving home instruction programs was warranted.
10. It is found that by resolution dated March 6, 1990 (hereinafter "resolution"), the Board directed the Commissioner of Education (hereinafter "Commissioner"), to establish a committee to advise him on the home instruction authorization process in Connecticut.
11. It is found that the resolution further directed the Commissioner to report to the Board the results of the committee's findings and his recommendations related thereto, no later than September 1990.
12. It is found that on or about March 30, 1990 the Commissioner notified twelve individuals that they were being appointed to the respondent committee.
Docket #FIC 90-273 Page 3
13. It is found that the Board did rely on the respondent's findings and the Commissioner's recommendations regarding those findings for purposes of revising the state guidelines for home instruction.
14. It is concluded that under these facts the deliberations, discussion and information generated from the respondent contributed to the formation of public education policy in Connecticut.
15. It is therefore concluded that under the facts of this case the respondent is a public agency within the meaning of 1-18a(a), G.S.
16. It is found that the respondent committee held five meetings between April 8 and May 31, 1990.
17. It is found that each of the respondent's meetings held after the April 9, 1990 organizational meeting were noticed and held as public meetings, minutes were kept but not filed, and members of the public were invited to give comment at the start of each meeting.
18. It is found that the meetings of the respondent were called and conducted as "regular meetings", however there is no evidence that a schedule of meetings was filed as required by 1-21(a), G.S.
19. It is concluded that the respondent violated 1-21(a), G.S., when it failed to notice and conduct its meetings as special meetings because no regular meeting may be held sooner than thirty days after a schedule of regular meetings has been filed.
20. It is found that a record of votes was kept by the respondent as part of the minutes of its meetings.
21. It is concluded that in this instance the respondent violated 1-21, G.S., when it failed to timely file its minutes and record of votes as required by the Act.
22. It is found that nothing in the Act requires a public agency to solicit or permit public comment at its public meetings. Moreover, whenever a public agency invites public comment it has the right to impose reasonable restrictions regarding the subject matter and length of the remarks.
Docket #FIC 90-273 Page 4
23. It is found that the chairman of the respondent committee did circulate a draft copy of the report along with the minutes of the meetings for each committee member's review and comment regarding whether the report was an accurate representation of the respondent's recommendations.
24. It is concluded that the respondent did not engage in seriatim or secret meetings in violation of 1-21, G.S.
25. It is found that the complainants are without standing to assert a claim of a violation of the rights of respondent committee members.
26. It is found that the report and correspondence sought by the complainants is a public record within the meaning of 1-18a(d), G.S.
27. It is found that on or about August 6, 1990, a draft report was generated by the respondent.
28. It is found that the complainants were promptly provided a draft copy of the report on or about August 10, 1990, two days after their initial request.
29. It is found that the complainants were provided with all non-exempt correspondence existing in the respondent's files at the time of their request.
30. It is concluded that the respondent fully complied with the open records provisions set forth in 1-15 and 1-19, G.S.
31. The Commission declines to impose either a civil penalty or null and void order.
The following order by the Commission is hereby recommended
on the basis of the record concerning the above-captioned complaint:
1. The Commission notes that the respondent committee has been disbanded, but advises the Commissioner that under the facts of this case the respondent should have strictly complied with the open meetings provisions of 1-21, G.S.
Docket #FIC 90-273 Page 5
2. The Commission also notes that the respondent is to be commended for its good faith attempts to comply with the spirit of the Act, notwithstanding its belief that the Act was inapplicable, to ensure public access and participation in its deliberative process.
Approved by order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its regular meeting of February 27, 1991.
Tina C. Frappier
Acting Clerk of the Commission
Docket #FIC 90-273 Page 6
PURSUANT TO SECTION 4-180(c), G.S. THE FOLLOWING ARE THE NAMES OF EACH PARTY AND THE MOST RECENT MAILING ADDRESS, PROVIDED TO THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION, OF THE PARTIES OR THEIR AUTHORIZED REPRESENTATIVE.
THE PARTIES TO THIS CONTESTED CASE ARE:
276 East Flag Swamp Road
Southbury, CT 06488
8 Mary Bee Lane
Sherman, CT 06784
4 Pond Crest Road
Danbury, CT 06811
ILENE TRAIGER AND JOSEPH SHAPIRO
125 Stonecrest Road
Ridgefield, CT 06877
STATE OF CONNECTICUT, DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, HOME INSTRUCTION COMMITTEE
c/o Diane Whitney
Assistant Attorney General
110 Sherman Street
Hartford, CT 06105
Tina C. Frappier
Acting Clerk of the Commission