District 155 Freedom of Information Act Appeal – Round 2

In my quest to find out more about what the Crystal Lake Police reported about

“…a suspected misappropriation or theft of funds from South High School,”

I filed a Freedom of Information Request with District 155 requesting request to provide the names of people currently on leaves of absence and the dates those leaves began.

Let’s call the encounter “Round 1.”

I was denied the leave of absences part of what I sought, but I did get the email that Supt. Jill Hawk sent to district employees.

No, no, District Public Information Officer Jeff Puma replied.

It’s exempt, don’t you know? Look at FOIA Section 7(1)(c).

“Unwarranted invasion of personal privacy”

To refresh your memories, here’s the relevant part of the District’s denial letter of April 15th:

“The District intends to deny your request for “the names of any faculty members who are currently on leave of absence and the date(s) such leave(s) of absence began:’ FOIA Section 7(1)(c) exempts the following:

personal information contained within public records, the disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy, unless the disclosure is consented to in writing by the individual subjects of the information. “Unwarranted invasion of personal privacy” means the disclosure of information that is highly personal or objectionable to a reasonable person and in which the subject’s right to privacy outweighs any legitimate public interest in obtaining the information. The disclosure of information that bears on the public duties of public employees and officials shall not be considered an invasion of personal privacy.

“Here, I believe that the disclosure of the requested information concerning employees’ leaves of absence would result in a clearly unwarranted invasion of the employees’ personal privacy within the above definition.

“Leaves of absence are highly personal events (which do not necessarily involve an expenditure of public funds since many leaves of absence are unpaid) and their disclosure would be objectionable to a reasonable person.

“Moreover, the District’s employees have not consented to the disclosure of such information. Finally, though I acknowledge that the public may have a legitimate interest in this information, I believe this interest is outweighed by the employees’ rights to privacy.

“For these reasons, I intend to deny a portion of your request under Section 7(1)(c) of the Freedom of Information Act. Pursuant to Section 9.5(b) of FOIA, I will forward this letter to the Public Access Counselor for her review, for a determination whether any further inquiry is warranted, and for a determination whether the records you have requested are exempt from disclosure pursuant to Section 7(1)(c).”

Needless to say, I appealed to the Public Access Counselor of the Illinois Attorney General.

And I won.

Here’s the reply from Amalia Rioja, Chief Deputy Public Access Counselor:

“Section 7(1)(c) of FOIA exempts from inspection and copying “[p]ersonal information contained within public records, the disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy, unless disclosure is consented to in writing by the individual subjects of the information.” 5 ILCS 140/7(1)(c).

“The exemption defines “[u]nwarranted invasion of personal privacy” as “the disclosure of information that is highly personally or objectionable to a reasonable person and in which the subject’s right to privacy outweighs any legitimate public interest in obtaining the information.” Id. The disclosure of information that bears upon the duties of public employees, however, “shall not be considered an invasion of personal privacy.” Id.

“The School District’s use of the Section 7(1)(c) exemption with regard to the names of faculty members who are currently on leaves of absence and the dates said leaves began is denied.”

“We have determined that the names of public employees who are on a leave of absence and the dates that said leaves of absence began bears on the their public duties and the disclosure of this information would not constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy. Whether a public employee is currently working or on a leave of absence is information, to which the public has a right to know. Moreover, even if an employee had a right to privacy with regard to this type of information, any such right is outweighed by the public’s legitimate interest in obtaining this information.”

“Accordingly, the School District should provide Mr. Skinner with the names of faculty members currently on leaves of absence and the dates upon which any such leaves commenced.”

Round 2.

Here’s what the Crystal Lake High School District provided on May 6, 2010 (received May 6th):

The information District 155 supplied about employees on leaves of absence and the dates such leaves began. Note the redactions.

My guess is that most of these leaves of absence result from the birth of a child. I know that is the case in one instance.

But, there is are redactions. One name and date is missing.

The excuse for keeping the information of whoever entered into a leave of absence between March 4th and March 29th (assuming the employees are listed in calendar order) is another section of the Freedom, Section 7(1)(n).

“Please see the included list for employees currently on leaves of absence including the date that such leaves began. The District has redacted an employee’s name since said employee is on administrative leave for a disciplinary case that has not yet been adjudicated. Records relating to a public body’s adjudication of employee disciplinary cases are not subject to FOIA under Section 7(1)(n).”

So, at least District 155 is admitting that someone is on leave of absence “for a disciplinary case that has not yet been adjudicated,” but won’t reveal who.

Is this one of those “two steps forward, one step back” situations?

We’ll find out as my second appeal is answered.


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