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Department of Education sues citizens who file public records requests

4 months 3 weeks 3 days ago June 01, 2016 Jun 1, 2016 Wednesday, June 01 2016 June 01, 2016 3:56 PM in News
Source: WBRZ

BATON ROUGE- Tonight, there are new allegations the Department of Education is hiding public information from you. State Superintendent of Education John White is suing two citizens who filed public records requests this year.

Last year, the WBRZ Investigative Unit showed the Department paid out thousands of dollars in settlements for not turning over public records to citizens.

Dr. James Finney is an educator, self proclaimed watchdog and someone who is passionate about the education of children. Over the past few years, he claims he's run into road blocks with the State Department of Education.

"They apparently don't want anybody to be able to track the numbers to try to get a handle on where the money is going and whether school performance scores are being calculated accurately and fairly," Finney said.

Finney and Michael Deshotels have been tied up in litigation with the Department of Education over public records requests they sent in.

"All I want is the State Department of Education to start cooperating," Deshotels said last year. "We don't need to be in court all the time. That is a terrible waste of taxpayer money."

Weeks ago, the pair got slapped with a lawsuit where State Superintendent of Education John White sued them over public records requests. The lawsuits asks a court to rule Finney and Deshotels request for records is not in compliance with federal law known as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act or FERPA.

"The data that I request is not in violation of FERPA," Finney said. "FERPA is a federal law anyway. They are suing in State Court and have already lost on this issue. I have no interest in personal identifying information."

Last year the Investigative Unit showed that lawsuits against the Department of Education date back years and cost taxpayers thousands. It's all over the Department not turning over records. The Investigative Unit tracked down four that all had to be settled after a Judge ruled against the Department of Education for thousands of dollars.

Tonight, Finney and Deshotels both call the lawsuit filed by John White at the Department of Education ridiculous.

"Give us the records, and we'll quit filing records requests," Finney said. "They belong to the public and should be shared. I'd love to know what he's trying to hide."

The Investigative Unit requested a sit down interview with State Superintendent John White. We were told he was not in the building. A written statement from the Director of Public Affairs was sent instead:

“The Department of Education has received public records requests that do not comply with federal privacy laws and potentially reveal the personally identifiable information of students in Louisiana schools. The Department is simply asking a judge if these requests are something under the law that must be filled, putting the identity of our children in jeopardy.”

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