FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION
OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT
In the Matter of a Complaint by Final Decision
Macklin Reid and The Ridgefield Press,
against Docket #FIC 93-164
Superintendent, Ridgefield Public Schools,
Respondent December 8, 1993
The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on September 23, 1993, at which time the complainants and the respondent appeared, stipulated to certain facts and presented testimony, exhibits and argument on the complaint. At the hearing on this matter, Nancy Sekor requested and was granted intervenor status in these proceedings.
After consideration of the entire record, the following facts are found and conclusions of law are reached:
1. The respondent is a public agency within the meaning of 1-18a(a), G.S.
2. By letter dated June 7, 1993 ("June request"), the complainants requested from the respondent a copy of a report of the arbitration panel headed by J. Larry Foy (hereinafter "report"), concerning the proposed dismissal of Nancy Sekor, a teacher in the Ridgefield Public Schools. The June request included a request for a copy of the minority or dissenting report by arbitration panel member Stuart Losen (hereinafter "dissent").
3. It is found that by letter also dated June 7, 1993, the respondent denied the complainants' June request stating:
...I have communicated [your] request to Attorney Laviano, as attorney for Mrs. Sekor. Mr. Laviano stated that he objects to the release of these reports. Therefore, on the advice of legal counsel I am unable to comply with your request at this time.
4. By letter of complaint dated June 9, 1993, and filed with the Commission on June 10, 1993, the complainants appealed the respondent's denial of their June request.
Docket #FIC 93-164 Page 2
5. It is found that all hearings before the three-member arbitration panel (hereinafter "panel"), concerning the proposed dismissal of Ms. Sekor were publicly held at her request.
6. It is found that after those public proceedings, a majority report and a dissent, which are at issue here, were issued by the panel concerning the dismissal of Ms. Sekor.
7. The intervenor essentially claims that the requested records are exempt from disclosure pursuant to 1-19(b)(2), G.S., which provides that nothing in the Freedom of Information Act shall require disclosure of:
personnel or medical files and similar files the disclosure of which would constitute an invasion of personal privacy; ....
8. It is found that the report consists of approximately four hundred and fifty pages of text, and an appendix of approximately two hundred additional pages containing personnel file documents and other records which were made exhibits during the proceeding.
9. It is found that the report discusses both Ms. Sekor's performance and competence as an educator, as well as students' interactions with her. Purportedly, the report references students by number rather than name to protect their identities.
10. It is found that although the findings and conclusions in the report relate to matters and documents that might also be found in Ms. Sekor's personnel file, neither the report nor the dissent has ever been maintained as part of her personnel file.
11. It is found that both the report and its dissent are public records within the meaning of 1-18a(d) and 1-19(a), G.S.
12. It is concluded that neither the report nor the dissent are personnel files within the meaning of 1-19(b)(2), G.S.
13. At the hearing the complainants amended their records request to allow the respondent to redact any portion of the report or dissent subject to a claim of privacy by either Ms. Sekor or the students discussed therein. Therefore, even if the subject records were a personnel file within the meaning of 1-19(b)(2), G.S., compliance with the amended request would not constitute an invasion of personal privacy within the meaning of that statutory provision.
Docket #FIC 93-164 Page 3
14. The intervenor also claims that the records at issue are not disclosable because a lawsuit concerning the report has been filed.
15. It is found that on or about May 24, 1993, the intervenor instituted a civil action against J. Larry Foy and the Ridgefield Board of Education (hereinafter "board"), alleging that the report was not the report of the panel.
16. It is found that notwithstanding the intervenor's attempts to label the report as something other than the report of the panel, at all times material the respondent has identified both the report and dissent as the only documents which would be responsive to the complainants' request, and which would have been disclosed to the complainants absent an objection from the intervenor.
17. The intervenor further argues that a court has issued an injunction against disclosure of the report.
18. It is found that on or about May 25, 1993, Superior Court Judge Moraghan issued an order in Sekor v. J. Larry Foy and [Board], No. 93 313638 (hereinafter "court order"), stating that the defendants "...maiintain [sic] the status quo pending a hearing before [the] court on [June 29,] 1993...."
19. It is found that additional language appearing on the face of the court's order concerning submission or consideration of the panel's report was lined out of the court order and thus not intended to be included therein.
20. It is also found that the respondent is not a party to the civil action referenced in paragraphs 15 and 18, above.
21. It is concluded that the reasonable construction of the court order is that the court intended to stay the board's implementation of the panel's recommendation to terminate the intervenor's employment as a teacher pending the outcome of the civil action.
22. It is found that the intervenor failed to prove the existence of an order enjoining disclosure of the report and dissent by either the board or the respondent.
23. It is further found that neither the intervenor nor the respondent proved the applicability of any exemption to disclosure of the report and dissent.
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24. It is therefore concluded that the respondent violated 1-15 and 1-19(a), G.S., by failing to provide the complainants with a copy of both the report and dissent.
The following order by the Commission is hereby recommended on the basis of the record concerning the above-captioned complaint:
1. Within ten days of the date of the mailing of the notice of final decision in this case, the respondent shall provide the complainants with a copy of the report and dissent.
2. In both the report and dissent, the respondent may redact: a) all names of, and personally identifying information concerning students, and b) any portion of the report or dissent referencing testimony or evidence that was not presented during the public portions of the Sekor dismissal hearings, and which is subject to a claim of privacy by the intervenor.
3. Henceforth the respondent shall strictly comply with the disclosure requirements contained in 1-15 and 1-19(a), G.S.
Approved by Order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its regular meeting of December 8, 1993.
Elizabeth A. Leifert
Acting Clerk of the Commission
Docket #FIC 93-164 Page 5
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:
Mr. Macklin Reid
The Ridgefield Press
Ridgefield, CT 06877
Superintendent, Ridgefied Public Schools
c/o Lawrence J. Campane, Esq.
Sullivan, Lettick & Schoen
646 Prospect Avenue
Hartford, CT 06105
Nancy Sekor, Intervenor
c/o William Laviano, Esq.
90 Grove Street
Ridgefield, CT 06877-4114
Elizabeth A. Leifert
Acting Clerk of the Commission