CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — A Wyoming school official on Tuesday defended his decision to withhold a report that a judge has ordered released to the public that details an investigation into bullying and harassment at a junior high school where racist and homophobic flyers had been posted.
Laramie School District No. 1 Superintendent Boyd Brown said he didn’t know whether he would appeal a ruling by Laramie County District Judge Peter Froelicher that upholds the argument by news organizations and an open-government advocacy group that the report is a public record.
“This matter involves the public’s access to governmental records subject to the presumption of openness and the notion that disclosure should prevail under” Wyoming law, Froelicher’s order said.
Laramie School District No. 1 Superintendent Boyd Brown said he understands the need to disclose public records.
But, he said he is concerned that District Judge Peter Froelicher’s order to make the report public might prevent students from coming forward or participating in future investigations for fear that the information they disclose could be released to the public.
“We don’t apologize for trying to protect our students and staff,” Brown said in a phone interview.
Froelicher ordered the release of the full report that blacks out identifying information about students, parents or the person who filed the complaint. In doing so, he dismissed claims by the school district that a redacted release wouldn’t go far enough to conceal the identity of students.
The flyers posted by at least one student at McCormick Junior High School in March 2019 read “Join the KKK” and “It’s not OK to be gay.”
The school district launched an investigation after a person filed a complaint that alleged there was ongoing harassment and discrimination at the school — beyond the posting of the flyers.
The school district in a May statement said it investigated the complaint and had drafted an action plan as a result of the investigation.
School district officials denied a request by the Wyoming Tribune Eagle newspaper to release the full report or a summary.
The newspaper’s owner, Adams Publishing Group, along with The Associated Press, Gray Television Inc., Townsquare media and Wyoming Liberty Group, sued the school district and Brown. The plaintiffs argued that the report and summary are public records that should be available for inspection.
School district officials argued in part that the documents were protected from being made public because of attorney-client privilege.
The judge rejected that argument, saying the final report is a detailed description of the investigation conducted by a school district employee and that it does not contain legal strategies, advice or impressions that can be kept from the public.
Froelicher also ruled that the report’s summary, written by attorneys, was subject to attorney-client privilege and could not be released.
The judge said he would redact the document himself after school district officials provided a redacted version that contained “additional and broader redactions” than the judge believed was appropriate.
After the judge releases the blacked-out report, both sides will have 10 days to object before any information can be publicly released.
Published at Tue, 07 Apr 2020 17:02:00 +0000