Education

NC lawmaker says he’s spent almost a year trying to get public records from CMS

What is the FOIA?

Since 1967, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) has provided the public the right to request access to records from any federal agency. It is often described as the law that keeps citizens in the know about their government.
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Since 1967, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) has provided the public the right to request access to records from any federal agency. It is often described as the law that keeps citizens in the know about their government.

Scott Stone has less than two weeks left as a state representative, but he says he won’t abandon a public records request he filed with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in February.

Stone told the Observer he sent a Dec. 6 letter demanding that CMS either finish providing the records he requested or inform him that the search for such records was complete. “As you and your department are aware,” Stone wrote in a letter to CMS General Counsel George Battle III, “state law requires that you respond to and fulfill this request ‘as promptly as possible.’ ”

Stone said he had gotten no answer as of Dec. 20, when many CMS staff left for the holidays.

CMS Chief Communications Officer Tracy Russ told the Observer on Thursday that the district has been providing updates and documents to Stone and his staff. But when pressed for a response to the Dec. 6 query about whether the request was completed or still in progress, Russ said the staffer handling it was on holiday leave.

That request stems from a political skirmish over legislation that would have limited class sizes in early elementary grades.

Stone, a Republican representing southern Mecklenburg County, filed two public record requests filed in February. He sought email, text messages and any other correspondence related to the class-size cap involving school board members and three specific staff members, as well as communication between any CMS employee and anyone associated with three liberal or Democratic groups that were involved in the fray. He also sought communication related to CMS efforts to ban or restrict meetings between principals and lawmakers, Stone told the Observer at the time.

CMS officials told the Observer in March that Stone’s requests were forcing them to search through correspondence for more than 200 people, including principals of 176 schools, and review all documents to remove any confidential information, such as references to individual students or personnel matters. CMS had already sent some documents then.

In his Dec. 6 letter to Battle, Stone said he has not received “any substantive correspondence related to our February 16th request” and only “limited records” related to his Feb. 22 request.

“If your review is complete I would like confirmation of this fact and documentation of what actions were taken to research this request,” Stone wrote.

In a Thursday email to the Observer, Stone said he suspects CMS thinks he will give up when he leaves office. Stone lost to Democrat Wesley Harris in his reelection bid for the District 105 House seat.

“It appears that they have no intention of ever responding to either records request,” Stone wrote. “I am not going to give up on getting this information.”

North Carolina’s public records law requires that copies of public records be provided “as promptly as possible” but does not specify a time frame.

“Among factors that might appropriately delay granting access are the number of records requested, whether they are located in multiple or remote sites, how large the public agency is, and whether any part of the records must be redacted,” according to an overview written by Professor Frayda Bluestein of the UNC School of Government. “Unless a request is extraordinary, however, a custodian probably should respond within a week or two at most.”

People who believe they have been denied the access required by law can go to court to seek an order for compliance.

Ann Doss Helms has covered education for the Observer since 2002, long enough to watch a generation of kids go from preK to college. She is a repeat winner of the North Carolina Press Association’s education reporting award.
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