Attorney General Legal Opinion On FOIA Complaint Against State Board of Education Needs Some Serious Fact Checks!

Delaware State Representative Kim Williams filed a FOIA complaint against the Delaware State Board of Education last February in regards to their board meeting on February 18th.  This was the infamous and controversial Wilmington Education Improvement Commission redistricting plan vote!  Regarding public seating at State Board meetings, the Attorney General is going by how many people sign in for these meetings.  Frequently, Delaware Department of Education Employees attend these meetings (that are not directors which are assigned their own seats on the sides of the room) and do not sign in.  This can take up a lot of seats.  Not everyone signs in.  I have attended many of these meetings to see several people in the hallway.  It has been addressed in public comment to the State Board of Education on more than one occasion.

 

July 28, 2016

VIA EMAIL AND STATE MAIL

Representative Kim Williams
Legislative Hall
411 Legislative Avenue
Dover, DE 19903
kimberly.williams@state.de.us

 

            Re:    FOIA Complaint Concerning the State Board of Education

 

Dear Representative Williams:

 

The Delaware Department of Justice (“DOJ”) received your letter dated February 25, 2016 requesting our determination, pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act, 29 Del. C. Ch. 100 (“FOIA”), of whether the State Board of Education violated the FOIA open meeting requirements.  We treat your email as a petition for a determination of whether a violation of FOIA has occurred or is about to occur.  29 Del. C. §10005(e).  Our determination is set forth herein.

 

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND[1]

On February 18, 2016, a State Board of Education (“Board”) meeting was held in the second floor Cabinet Room of the Townsend Building located at 401 Federal Street in Dover. Representative Williams attended the meeting along with other members of the public. During the meeting, the Board entertained a motion to approve the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission (“WEIC”) Plan with an amendment.

 

II. POSITIONS OF THE PARTIES

The Petition alleges that the Board “was aware that many people would be attending th[e] meeting and did not change their meeting location to accommodate all the people.”  As a result, Representative Williams alleges “many people had to stand out in the hallway.”  The Petition also alleges that the Board violated FOIA’s open meeting requirements by conducting conversations off the record and out of the presence of the members of the public who were in attendance:

The State Board during their public discussion on the original motion stopped the discussion and went off the record and out of the room to speak with their attorneys and board members – it was done when they were getting ready to vote.  The State Board of Education, Donna Johnson, Secretary Godowsky, attorneys and others were going into the back room – obviously they were in discussions about the motion …

 

Finally, the Petition alleges that the Board acted improperly by considering the WEIC recommendations with conditions after the motion on the WEIC Plan had been voted down by a vote of 4 to 3.  Specifically, pursuant to Senate Bill 122, the Petition alleges that the Board was required to vote yes or no, and if they voted no, “they [we]re to send the recommendations back to the WEIC Commission with an explanation as to why they voted no.”

 

The Board submitted its response to the Petition on March 9, 2016.  Regarding the allegation that the Board should have moved the meeting location in advance of the meeting, the Board argues that the Board was unaware that the meeting would be as heavily attended as it was.  In fact, the Board noted that WEIC representatives had reached out to the Board and requested that six chairs be reserved in the audience for the meeting. The Board also responded that it has held its meetings in the Cabinet Room for more than forty years. With respect to the allegation that the Board improperly engaged in conversations off record, the Board responded that the President of the Board discussed a procedural question for the Board’s counsel during a break, but that “at no time was a quorum of the board involved in any private or ‘back room’ meeting,” and there was thus no violation of FOIA as a result of conversations among Board members that may have taken place during the break.

 

On March 10, 2016 and March 20, 2016, Representative Williams supplemented her Petition. In the March 10 correspondence, Representative Williams asserted that members of the public have repeatedly complained about the size of the meeting location and the fact that the Board has always met in the Cabinet Room is not a sufficient basis for the meetings to remain in that room.  Additionally, she alleged that any questions that were discussed during the break should have been discussed in public.  In the March 20 correspondence, Representative Williams asserted that “[t]he discussion should have never occurred in the back room, with or without a quorum, behind closed doors.”  She also provided an email from Michael Matthews, who asserted that “[a]ll Board members, Sec. Godowsky and State Board Executive Director Donna Johnson left the room together…”

 

 

III. REQUEST FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

On June 9, 2016, we requested additional information from the Board regarding the size of the Cabinet Room. The same day, the Board responded that, when the room is set up for State Board of Education meetings, there are 57 chairs.  However, for the February meeting, there were about 64 chairs. The Board noted that, for each meeting, there are about 20 reserved chairs.  Based upon this information, including the six chairs specifically reserved for the WEIC at the February 18 meeting, there were about 38 chairs open at the February meeting.

 

The Board also provided a count of attendees at previous meetings based solely upon the individuals who chose to sign in at each meeting, which the Board indicated was its only mechanism for counting attendance.[2] The September 2015 meeting during which WEIC was discussed, had 37 guests sign in. WEIC was also discussed at the October meeting, which had 22 guests. The next time WEIC was discussed during a Board meeting was December, when there were 47 guests. At the January 2016 meeting the WEIC proposal was presented for action and there were 31 guests. Finally, at the February 2016 meeting at issue here, there were 58 individuals who signed in. There were 35 guests who signed in for the final WEIC meeting in March 2016.

 

IV. APPLICABLE LAW

FOIA’s “Declaration of Policy” provides that “citizens shall have the opportunity to observe the performance of public officials and to monitor the decisions that are made ….”[3]

 

“Every meeting of all public bodies shall be open to the public except those closed [for a permitted reason].”[4]  “Public body” includes any subcommittee of a public body that is supported by public funds, spends public funds or is charged with making “reports, investigations or recommendations” to a public body.[5]

 

A public body must vote at a public meeting to move into executive session, and “all voting on public business must take place at a public meeting and the results of the vote made public.”[6]

 

V. DISCUSSION

The Board Violated FOIA by Not Moving or Considering Whether to Move the February 18, 2016 Meeting From the Cabinet Room. 

 

Representative Williams alleges that the Townsend Building Cabinet Room was too small to hold the public interested in the WEIC matter. The Board responded that it could not have anticipated the number of people who attended the meeting, especially because WEIC only requested that six chairs be reserved.

 

When considering whether a public body has violated the open meeting requirement based upon the alleged inadequate size of the venue, we have looked both at what the public body knew at the time of scheduling and how it responded to an unexpected overflow.[7] “‘[T]he governmental unit must balance the public right of access against the burdens that providing additional public access would impose on the governmental unit.’”[8] The standard for any individual meeting is reasonableness under the circumstances.[9]

 

FOIA does not require the public body to predict the exact number of citizens who may attend a public meeting.[10] But, we have stated that “if a public body has reason to know that a large number of citizens is likely to attend a meeting, then FOIA requires the public body to find another, larger place for the meeting.”[11]  A venue that may be reasonable at the time a meeting is noticed may become unreasonable due to an unanticipated overflow at the meeting.[12]  Thus, we have also stated:  “[I]n the event of an overflow, a public body should consider adjourning the meeting to another time at a facility that can accommodate all of the interested citizens.”[13]

 

Viewed from the perspective of what the DOE knew before the meeting, we find this to be a close call.  The WEIC matter was highly-publicized and politically charged.  The Board has been using the Cabinet Room for its meetings for more than 40 years,[14] including for the four previous meetings of the WEIC.  Representative Williams contends that the public has “repeatedly complained” about the inadequate size of the room, but she does not identify to whom such complaints were directed, and there is no evidence that anyone contacted the DOE before the meeting to request that the meeting be moved to a larger venue.  Also, the sign-in sheets reveal that 23% more people signed in at the February 18 meeting than the highest number DOE had seen from the previous meetings.  Perhaps attendance at this meeting was anomalously high.  Unfortunately, the number of people who sign the sign-in sheets reveals little about the actual attendance at any of the prior meetings.

 

But, we must also consider what information DOE had at the beginning of the meeting, when it could have made some reasonable accommodation for an unanticipated overflow.  The exact size of the overflow is not clear.  Representative Williams says that “many” people were made to stand in the hallway.  We have no information from DOE respecting the size of the overflow at the meeting, except for the information we can glean from the sign-in sheet, which, again, reveals little about actual attendance.  What is clear, however, is the absence in the record of any facts suggesting that the DOE considered or attempted to respond to the overflow or to make reasonable accommodations to facilitate citizens’ attendance at the meeting.[15]

 

On the whole, we must conclude that the DOE has not met its burden to prove that it satisfied its obligations under FOIA in connection with the February 18 meeting.

 

The Board Did Not Violate FOIA When the President of the Board Consulted With the Board’s Counsel. 

 

Representative Williams states that the Board took a break during the February meeting in the middle of discussing the WEIC motion. This exchange was not recorded, but counsel for the Board confirms that the Board President and counsel for the Board engaged in a discussion about the vote. Counsel also states that three other Board members approached counsel with questions, each separately. Counsel for the Board states that at no time was there a quorum of Board members discussing public business during a break.

 

A public meeting is defined as “the formal or informal gathering of a quorum of the members of any public body for the purpose of discussing or taking action on public business….”[16] Moreover, “conversations with each other or with staff do not need to be public unless they include a quorum of the members.”[17] Indeed, “absent some evidence that the members knowingly avoid public monitoring of the deliberations of the quorum, there is no basis on which to find that FOIA has been violated.”[18]

 

Here, there is no evidence that a quorum of members discussed the vote with the Board’s counsel.  As such, we find no FOIA violation in connection with Board members’ individual discussions with the Board’s counsel.

 

The Substantive Validity of the Board’s WEIC Vote is Outside the Scope of FOIA.

 

Representative Williams raises concerns regarding the substantive validity of the Board’s vote on the WEIC matter.  The substantive validity of the Board’s vote is a matter outside the scope of FOIA and, as a result, is not addressed here.[19]

 

VI. CONCLUSION

We conclude that the Board violated FOIA when it failed to consider the adequacy of the venue upon learning of an overflow of attendees.  However, we decline to find that the Board’s actions at the February 2016 meeting should be invalidated. To invalidate the numerous actions taken at the February meeting would have “draconian consequences.”[20] Additionally, invalidation of the SBE’s approval of the WEIC plan is moot given that the General Assembly sent the redistricting plan back to the WEIC for further consideration and development. We suggest that the Board consider the adequacy of the Cabinet Room as a venue when scheduling future meetings or when thereafter confronted with unanticipated interest.

 

This decision is directed solely to the parties identified herein.  It is based on the facts relevant to this matter.  It does not constitute precedent and should not be cited as such by future parties.

 

Very truly yours,

/s/ Danielle Gibbs

Danielle Gibbs
Chief Deputy Attorney General
cc:       Patricia A. Davis, Deputy Attorney General (via email)

 

[1]           The Factual Background Section of this Opinion refers to your communications as made by “Representative Williams” for ease of future reference by third parties.

[2]              There is no evidence in the record that the DOE asks all attendees to sign-in at meetings.

[3]           29 Del. C. § 10001.

[4]           29 Del. C. § 10004(a).

[5]           29 Del. C. § 10002(c).

[6]           29 Del. C. § 10004(c).

[7]           Del. Op. Att’y Gen. 98-IB12 (Nov. 10, 1998).

[8]           Del. Op. Att’y Gen. 02-IB09 (Apr. 4, 2002) (quoting Del. Op. Att’y Gen. 96-IB23 (June 20, 1996)).

[9]           Del. Op. Att’y Gen. 98-IB12 (Nov. 10, 1998).

[10]         Id.

[11]         Del. Op. Att’y Gen. 02-IB09 (Apr. 4, 2002).

[12]            Del. Op. Att’y Gen. 98-IB12 (Nov. 10, 1998).

[13]         Del. Op. Att’y Gen. 02-IB09 (Apr. 4, 2002).

[14]            This historical fact is not relevant to whether the venue for any particular meeting is reasonable under the circumstances.  But, it suggests that if someone was aware that a large number of people would attend the meeting, that person might have informed the DOE in advance.  Cf. id.

[15]         Indeed, the DOE’s response that the Cabinet Room has been used for forty years suggests that it has not adopted a practice of considering the adequacy of its standard venue in connection with each public meeting.  Cf. Del. Op. Att’y Gen. 96-IB23 (June 20, 1996) (noting public body’s history of selecting meeting space based upon anticipated or actual attendance); Del. Op. Att’y Gen. 14-IB03 (June 16, 2014) (public body did not violate FOIA, despite turning attendees away from meeting, where it had forgone its regular meeting venue and noticed meeting for a significantly larger venue); Del. Op. Att’y Gen. 98-IB12 (Nov. 10, 1998) (public body responded reasonably to unanticipated attendance by moving to larger space to discuss one issue that generated great interest).

[16]         29 Del. C. § 10002(g).

[17]         Del. Op. Att’y Gen. 10-IB12 (2010).  See also Del. Op. Att’y Gen. 16-IB05 (2016).

[18]         Del. Op. Att’y Gen. 10-IB12 (2010).

[19]         See Del. Op. Att’y Gen. 16-IB05 (2016); Del. Op. Att’y Gen. 15-IB06 (2015).

 

[20]         See Levy v. Bd. of Educ. of Cape Henlopen Sch. Dist., 1990 WL 154147, at *8 (Del. Ch. Oct. 1, 1990).

 

If an entire board leaves a room after casting a vote, says they need to convene with council, come back and change their vote, against the spirit of the legislation that charged them with taking a very particular vote, what more evidence do you need?  They all left the room together!  Come on Delaware Attorney General Office!  Would it kill you to actually side with right on this one?  It may be out of your scope to decide if the board acted appropriately in regards to Senate Bill 122, but isn’t that your purpose?  To look at former Attorney General opinions, that did not have the scope of this decision, is not sufficient in my opinion.  And the whole part about “draconian consequences” is bogus, once again, in my opinion.  The State Board and DOE will always say and do anything to cover their ass.  They are masters at this practice.  And they get away with a lot because of it.  The premise of FOIA is good, but what comes out of it, more often than not, takes the side of the state entity that has the complaint lodged against them.  The main thrust of Rep. Williams complaint was the State Board of Education violated FOIA by meeting as a quorum outside of the public setting.  Instead we get this long litany of how many chairs were in the room and who signed up as an attendee!

Yes, we are all in agreement: this State Board of Education needs to change the location of their meetings!  At the Collette Center up Route 8, the DOE has two huge conference rooms with a partition that can be taken out to make it an even bigger conference room.  This location can fit hundreds of people.  Make it happen State Board!  And I’m pretty sure that the air conditioning unit in this newer building is better (after last week’s sticky, sweaty, humid board meeting at the Townsend Building).  Tradition should not get in the way of public access.  We all know there are some State Board meetings where attendance is slim, but that is not the norm.  Especially with all the crazy decisions regarding charters, accountability, teachers, and schools at these meetings.  Here is another novel idea: Live Stream your meetings!  The General Assembly does it when the full House and Senate are voting on bills.  Why can’t you?

I do know one thing.  I have a couple FOIA complaints out there myself.  This explains why I haven’t heard anything on them yet!

FOIA Bill Meant To Protect Delaware Passes Senate With Crucial Amendment

The Delaware Senate passed a bill dealing with the Freedom of Information Act on Wednesday but placed an amendment on the bill.  The amendment on Senate Bill 258 removes the terms “data dictionaries” and “file layouts”.  By including those terms in the potential law, it would essentially prevent parents from finding out what type of student information is going to outside companies from the Delaware Department of Education.  I wrote about this bill on May 19th in a very long article about student data privacy and technology in our schools.  I emailed the entire Senate at the same time.  As a result of my efforts, an amendment was attached to the bill removing the term “data dictionaries” and “file layouts”.

Sources informed me the state was receiving an abnormal amount of requests about the state IT infrastructure which caused much concern.  While it is not unusual to receive these requests, one source who requested anonymity stated, “It was an excessive amount of requests within a short period of time.  Red flags went up!”

By preventing parents from being able to find out this kind of information regarding student data, the bill could have violated the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).  As part of FERPA, parents do have certain rights in asking for information about what records are released about their child.  I am glad the Delaware Senate Executive Committee took this step and listened to my concern.  I’m not sure if others expressed the same concern, but if they did, thank you!  A special thank you to the sponsor of this legislation, State Senator Brian Bushweller, who immediately responded to my thoughts on the matter and took action.

Google describes data dictionaries as the following:

a set of information describing the contents, format, and structure of a database and the relationship between its elements, used to control access to and manipulation of the database.

 

Teacher Evaluation Bill Unanimously Released While WEIC Bill Tabled In House Education Committee

It was a mixed bag of results at the Delaware House Education Committee.  A teacher evaluation bill, House Bill 399, was released unanimously from the committee.  But a Wilmington Education Improvement Commission bill, concerning the redistricting of Wilmington students in the Christina School District to the Red Clay Consolidated School District, designed to make clear a school board can not raise taxes without a referendum, was not released.  It was immediately tabled after in the chance the bill can get enough votes to be lifted from that designation.  None of the House Republicans on the House Education Committee voted to release the bill, nor did Democrat Reps. Sean Matthews or Deb Heffernan.  While this doesn’t kill the WEIC redistricting plan (the main legislation for this is House Joint Resolution #12), it certainly doesn’t help.  Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf attended the meeting in support of the bill.

With the teacher evaluation bill, House Bill 399, this came after years of back and forth conversation between Delaware teachers and the Department of Education.  The bill deals with how Component V, the major sticking point for teachers, is measured in teacher evaluations.  The major part of that section deals with the state assessment scores, currently the Smarter Balanced Assesssment.  This bill would make it so both the administrator and the teacher would have to agree on what to use for this section, so it doesn’t necessarily have to be the state assessment.  There are some restrictions with this based on a teacher’s prior rating through the DPAS-II evaluation system.  This wouldn’t kick in if they were rated below effective.  House Bill 399 will go on the House Ready list and awaits a vote by the full House.  If it passes there, it would have to go to the Senate Education Committee, and if released, to a full Senate vote, and ultimately the Governor for signature.  Teachers have been fighting this component for years ever since Senate Bill 51 was signed into law during the 2013-2014 legislative session.

Executive Director of the State Board of Education, Donna Johnson, expressed concern during public comment concerning an administrator still having the final word in an evaluation.  Kristin Dwyer, speaking on behalf of the Delaware State Education Association, was in support of House Bill 399.  One public speaker (I did not catch her name so I apologize) spoke about a lack of diversity on the sub-committee of the DPAS-II Advisory Group that came up with the recommendations.  Dr. Mark Holodick, the Superintendent of the Brandywine School District, spoke on behalf of the Chief State School Officers, spoke in support of the bill.

The slow climb to a House vote for the WEIC bill met with resistance by half the House Education Committee today.  Seven voted yes to release while seven voted no.  For a bill to be released from the committee in the House, it must have a majority.  A lot of the discussion concerned what House Bill 424 means in terms of a school board being able to raise taxes without a referendum.  State Rep. Sean Lynn deferred to the House Attorney who said it would not give school boards this right.  That was not enough to sway the half of the committee who voted no on release of the bill.

Over in the Senate Education Committee, House Bill 277 was heard.  This bill would give the Pathways to Prosperity program a permanent steering committee.  Questions were asked to DOE representatives by State Senator Nicole Poore concerning funding for the program.  The Delaware Joint Finance Committee cut $250,000 Governor Markell earmarked to go towards this program.  Michael Watson and Luke Rhine from the Delaware DOE shared the funds for this mostly come from federal Perkins funds.  I gave public comment concerning a lack of parent representation on the proposed committee.  State Senator David Sokola thought that was in there and made it a point to make sure this was corrected.  A comment was made to Sokola’s question about this to the effect of “We can talk about this.”

As well, Senate Bill 278, dealing with the Freedom of Information Act at Delaware universities and proposed to make committees and sub-committees subject to FOIA, was heard in the Senate Education Committee.  Drs. Morgan and Galileo from the University of Delaware were in support of the bill as they met with stiff resistance in trying to find out what was even discussed at committee meetings.  They also shared that public comment is not allowed at committee meetings at University of Delaware.  Representatives from University of Delaware and Delaware State University were in opposition of the bill.

With the Senate, the results are not known right away if a bill is released or not.

While not officially on the agenda list yet, House Joint Resolution #12 will most likely be voted on tomorrow in the full House of Representatives.  This could either advance the WEIC redistricting forward or end it.  Senate Bill 277 is already on the agenda for a full Senate vote tomorrow as well.

Updated, 8:09pm: House Joint Resolution #12 is NOT on the House Agenda for tomorrow…

In Today’s Game: Can You Spot The FOIA Violation?

Gateway Lab School, a Delaware charter school that serves a very high population of students with disabilities, held a special board meeting on April 4th, 2016.  The purpose of the meeting was to discuss a due process mediation.  Can you spot the Delaware FOIA violation?  It’s easy if you try!

Oops! That’s a big one! I’ve already filed the FOIA complaint to the Attorney General’s office. As a gentle reminder to all school boards in Delaware: you can discuss student related matters in executive session if it pertains to an issue, but you can’t vote on it in executive session. You need to come out of executive session and vote on it then. Now you can’t, and shouldn’t, say this is for x student’s due process mediation situation. But I would suggest giving a number for all action items at a board meeting. Many boards do this already. You can just say, as an example, “In the matter of 16-322, may I have a motion to vote on this action item?”, or something along those lines. It wasn’t that long ago that Brandywine School District’s board had the same issue which is causing issues for the district now as part of a lawsuit.

As well, I have also requested an opinion from the same office about public comment at public meetings. I have noticed some Delaware charter schools ask public comment to be submitted up to two weeks in advance before a board meeting. I don’t think that is in the spirit of the law. Any member of the public should have unfettered access to a public meeting and have the ability to give public comment without having to give advance notice.

Sorry Gateway! Don’t mean to call you out but if all of your board members have not received the full training on these matters I would definitely get on that!

Delaware Cyber Security Advisory Council Violates FOIA In Their First Meeting

As reported by Randall Chase with the Associated Press yesterday, Delaware’s Cyber Security Advisory Council kicked off their first meeting with a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) violation.  But what the article didn’t cover was how the state tried to cover its tracks after the meeting.

James Collins, the state’s chief information officer and head of the council, then said the panel would meet in executive session, even though Delaware’s Freedom of Information Act requires that such closed-door meetings be noticed ahead of time.

But do they have the ability to time travel into the future to give that notice?  Apparently, they do!

This is the agenda for the first meeting as shown on Delaware’s Public Meeting Calendar website.

Cyber Security Real Agenda on DE Public Calendar

It looks like they have everything covered, right?  Including a FOIA Exemption Proposal because they know they are violating FOIA.  Here is the page from the Public Meeting Calendar website:

DEPublMtgCalDECybSecAdvCoun

Looks okay to me, right?

ChangeDate

In the above picture, taken from the bottom left-hand corner of the Public Meeting Calendar notice, it shows three change dates.  3/3/2016 was the original posting of the meeting, 3/22/2016 I would assume had the addition of the FBI Agent giving the briefing on the unclassified threat, and the 3/23/2016 change was to give notice about the group going into executive session to discuss the unclassified threat.  So maybe Randall Chase got it all wrong, right?

Cyber Security Agenda

Nope.  This picture is the properties of the PDF.  If you right-click with your mouse on a PDF, it tells you when a PDF was created and modified.  This PDF was actually created yesterday, 3/23/2016 at 3:17:16pm.  It was a brand new agenda.  The part blacked out is my own personal location for my computer which I didn’t think was necessary to throw out there so I will fully admit I blacked it out in the picture.

Someone should really file a FOIA complaint on this one to the Delaware Department of Justice!  Oh wait, I already did…

 

 

State Rep. Sean Lynn’s FOIA Legislation Opens Legislators To FOIA

SeanLynn

State Rep. Sean Lynn filed House Bill 269 on March 3rd.  In the State of Delaware, all state employees are subject to the Freedom of Information Act with one exception: the General Assembly.  Rep. Lynn’s bill would change that.  Any email from a General Assembly legislator, whether they are in the House or the Senate, would be subject to FOIA.  While this could certainly give Delaware more transparency, it would not allow for the FOIA treasure chest: cell phone texts.  I would imagine a lot of what goes on in Delaware happens this way.  But this is certainly a step in the right direction.

I would love to get a crack at State Rep. Earl Jaques and Senator Dave Sokola’s emails!  That would be fun!

HB269

 

 

University of Delaware FOIA Denial Re: San Diego State Professor Could Be A Game-Changer

A Freedom of Information Act denial by the University of Delaware could actually change the way they are exempt from FOIA requests. Stemming from a case with a San Diego State professor named Vincent Martin, NBC San Diego sought information from University of Delaware, where Martin taught when he left in 2011. He went to San Diego State where the professor was accused of sexual harassment by several students. He was immediately suspended, and Martin tried to fight it. Meanwhile, NBC’s FOIA request from University of Delaware failed to give the information that eventually came out during Martin’s arbitration last week. Martin was terminated from University of Delaware over sexual harassment issues back in 2011…

I first heard about this story on the Rick Jensen show this afternoon on WDEL. When I arrived home, the below email chain was sent to me by State Rep. John Kowalko. No college or university should be exempt from FOIA if they receive that much funding from state taxpayers. Please, General Assembly, pass House Bill 42. The below story is exactly why these special “exemptions” can be abused by those in power.


From: Lori Hill [mailto:lhill@udel.edu]
Sent: Wednesday, June 10, 2015 10:27 AM
To: Krueger, Paul (NBCUniversal, KNSD)
Cc: Andrea Boyle; Lawrence White
Subject: Delaware FOIA re: former UD professor Vincent Martin

Dear Mr. Krueger:

Thank you for your email dated May 20, 2015.  Your request under Delaware’s Freedom of Information Act has been referred to me, and it is my privilege to respond on behalf of the University of Delaware. Your request relates to documents and information relating to Professor Vincent Martin and his departure from the University of Delaware.  

Our State’s Freedom of Information Act exempts the University of Delaware from statutory coverage except in certain limited respects. The University is covered by the Freedom of Information Act only to the extent that requests relate to “the expenditure of public funds . . . .”  §10002(i).  Public funds are “those funds derived from the State or any political subdivision of the State.” §10002(k). Because the information you seek does not relate to the expenditure of public funds, the University respectfully declines your records request.

Again, thank you for writing.

Lori Hill

——

Lori Hill

Business Administrator

Certified Paralegal

University of Delaware

Office of General Counsel

112 Hullihen Hall

Newark, DE  19716

(302) 831-7366


Editor’s note: on the below email, the University of Delaware responded to questions from KNSD where I have highlighted them in red.


On Wed, Jun 10, 2015 at 6:50 PM, Krueger, Paul (NBCUniversal, KNSD) <Paul.Krueger@nbcuni.com> wrote:

Ms. Hill,

Thanks much for your response.

Can you please help me with these follow-up questions:

Again citing the Delaware Freedom of Information Act, I am requesting information about the annual salary and cost of benefits and any other payments and/or compensation paid to Vincent Martin during his tenure at the University of Delaware. Please provide me with a yearly break-down of those payments for the years in which Professor Martin was associated with and/or employed by, the University of Delaware. I am also requesting information about any payments made on his, and/or the University’s behalf to any third parties (including, but not limited to, students, faculty and staff and campus visitors) who complained about and/or filed any claims and/or lawsuits or legal action of any kind against Professor Martin and/or the University, for alleged acts committed by Martin. 

As Ms. Hill noted, Delaware’s Freedom of Information Act requires disclosure of information related to the expenditure of public funds.  The information you seek does not relate to the expenditure of public funds; thus, the University respectfully declines your records request.

For the following requested information, I am not citing the Delaware FOIA, but am instead making a general media inquiry to your institution:

The University can verify employment for former employees, but does not disclose personnel data beyond verification.   Vincent Martin worked here from 2000-2011.

When did Vincent Martin work at the University Of Delaware? 

What year did he start his employment, and what month and year did he leave the University?

What titles and/or positions did he have, while employed by the University. Why did Martin leave the University?

Other than teaching, was Martin paid for his participation in any other on- or off-campus programs, including any summer educational programs, specifically any program in Spain?

During his tenure at the University of Delaware, did the university administration receive any complaints about Martin’s behavior, investigate any of those complaints, and issue any findings and/or discipline in response to those complaints?

Did the University of Delaware Police Department investigate any complaints against Vincent Martin made to the University and or the University Police Department? If so, please provide me with details about those complaints and subsequent investigations.

The University of Delaware Police Department’s records indicate no complaints were made against Vincent Martin. 

Thanks very much in advance for your help.

Sincerely,

Paul Krueger

NBC San Diego

Paul Krueger

Senior Producer

NBC 7 San Diego

619-578-0269 (desk)

Paul.krueger@nbcuni.com

225 Broadway, #100

San Diego, CA  92101


From: Walsh, Lynn (NBCUniversal)
Sent: Tuesday, July 14, 2015 3:22 PM
To:john.kowalko@state.de.us‘; ‘kowalkoforthe25th@gmail.com


Subject: NBC San Diego, Help with University of Delaware request

Good Afternoon Rep. Kowalko,

My name is Lynn Walsh and I am an Investigative Journalists at the NBC station in San Diego.

I am working on a story involving a professor who used to teach at University of Delaware. I submitted a request for some information (more details and the University’s response are below) about his time at the University but it was denied by the school. I received your name from a fellow journalist and friend Chris Carl.

I was reaching out to you to see if you have any other ideas on how I might be able to obtain this information or would be willing to talk to me about my request and the denial?

I feel that this information is VERY basic public information and am honestly, very surprised that a PUBLIC University would deny a request like this from any member of the public.

Thanks for your time and feel free to call me at either number below. I will also be following up with a phone call. Thank you!


From: Walsh, Lynn (NBCUniversal) <Lynn.walsh@nbcuni.com>
Sent: Tuesday, July 14, 2015 6:50 PM
To: Kowalko, John (LegHall); kowalkoforthe25th@gmail.com
Subject: RE: NBC San Diego, Help with University of Delaware request

Rep. Kowalko,

Thank you so much for your time today.

I am working on drafting the request and will send that shortly.

In the meantime, the other question I had was this:

If this professor did OR was accused of sexual harassment or any misconduct while teaching for ten years at UD, would the University have been required to report this to the state or elsewhere? If so, to who?

Thank you – trying to see if I can get the information from another source possibly. Also, here are links to the stories we have done here:

http://www.nbcsandiego.com/investigations/SDSU-Professor-Still-Teaching-After-Sexually-Harassing-Student–301129881.html

http://www.nbcsandiego.com/investigations/SDSU-Professor-Accused-303131771.html


From: Kowalko, John (LegHall) [mailto:John.Kowalko@state.de.us]
Sent: Tuesday, July 14, 2015 6:04 PM
To: Walsh, Lynn (NBCUniversal)
Subject: Fw: Fw: NBC San Diego, Help with University of Delaware request

 initial response from my son. He just received the situation info.

John Kowalko


From: John Kowalko III <dogbert3002@gmail.com>
Sent: Tuesday, July 14, 2015 8:40 PM
To: Kowalko, John (LegHall)
Subject: Re: Fw: NBC San Diego, Help with University of Delaware request

Dad,
I have two initial thoughts.

(1) UD needs to be challenged on this “does not relate to the expenditures of public funds.” What does that even mean? What documents are they even using to support this? A FOIA request for all specific line-item expenditures involving public funds might work, but I could see UD trying to abuse the FOIA fees for a request like that.

(2) I don’t believe Delaware has any laws requiring reporting of these types of allegations, at least outside of official police reports. I think getting this data over UD’s objections could be difficult given the current state of Delaware law, but I also have not researched the issue to see if I am missing anything.


From: Walsh, Lynn (NBCUniversal) <Lynn.walsh@nbcuni.com>
Sent: Tuesday, July 14, 2015 9:15 PM
To: Kowalko, John (LegHall)
Subject: RE: Fw: NBC San Diego, Help with University of Delaware request

Thank you so much!

I am going to follow-up with the request to ask about expenditure of public funds.

In the meantime here is a draft of the information we are looking for – let me know what I need to add to it, etc. If it is completely wrong format let me know – first time doing this:

[Your Name]

[Street Address]

[City, ST ZIP Code]

[Date]

University of Delaware

General Counsel, Public Information Officer

112 Hullihen Hall

Newark, DE  19716

Dear University of Delaware:

Under the Delaware Freedom of Information Act § 100001 et seq., I am requesting an opportunity to inspect or obtain copies of public records:

  • Detail the employment history of former University of Delaware Professor Vincent Martin. This includes information detailing his salary, position and classes taught while he was an employee from 2000-2011.
  • Any complaints received about the former professors from students, faculty or parents during his time with the University.
  • Any investigation documents associated with the former professor or documents detailing any warnings or appeals made by the former professor.
  • The annual salary and cost of benefits and any other payments and/or compensation paid to Vincent Martin during his tenure at the University of Delaware. Please provide me with a yearly break-down of those payments for the years in which Professor Martin was associated with and/or employed by, the University of Delaware. I am also requesting information about any payments made on his, and/or the University’s behalf to any third parties (including, but not limited to, students, faculty and staff and campus visitors) who complained about and/or filed any claims and/or lawsuits or legal action of any kind against Professor Martin and/or the University, for alleged acts committed by Martin.

We believe the disclosure of the requested information is in the public interest and will contribute significantly to the public’s understanding.

Thank you for considering my request.

Sincerely,

[Your Name]

[Your Phone number]


From: Walsh, Lynn (NBCUniversal) <Lynn.walsh@nbcuni.com>
Sent: Tuesday, November 24, 2015 12:56 PM
To: Kowalko, John (LegHall)
Subject: RE: Fw: NBC San Diego, Help with University of Delaware request

Here is a link to our story: http://www.nbcsandiego.com/news/local/SDSU-Professor-Accused-Of-Sexual-Harassment-Has-History-Of-Similar-Behavior-353112391.html?utm_content=bufferbb5a5&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

And a link to the document detailing past behavior at University of Delaware: https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/2573931-sharpcpy-mail-sdsu-edu-20151120-184817.html


From: Kowalko, John (LegHall)
Sent: Tuesday, November 24, 2015 1:53 PM
To: aloudell@dbcmedia.com; acherry@wdel.com; al@wdel.com; albydm@aol.com; jdf0000@aol.com; james.dawson@wdde.org; rick@wdel.com; mbittle@newszap.com; kevino3670@yahoo.com; Osienski, Edward (LegHall); Dwyer, Sean (LegHall)
Subject: Fw: Fw: NBC San Diego, Help with University of Delaware request

Here’s what a closed, non-transparent environment in a taxpayer funded entity allows to happen. UofD refused to release or acknowledge this professors record while he served here when NBC ( made inquiries. The University general counsel claimed privilege under the FOIA exemption given to the UofD. It’s very alarming to allow questionable/immoral/illegal behavior to be hidden and tacitly condoned by a secretive policy that eventually permits a continuation of bad and harmful behavior to be transferred elsewhere. I hope you all will be inspired to demand release of HB 42 from committee for a floor vote. ​HB 42 would repeal the exemption to FOIA that the University of Delaware enjoys and restore its status as a “public” institution since it receives over $110 million in taxpayer funds. I’ve also pasted below the entire email dialogue I’ve had with the NBC reporter (Lynn Walsh) including the response she received from UofD to her queries.
Respectfully,
Representative John Kowalko

And there we have it.  Delaware’s biggest university refusing to give information on an ex-employee being held accountable out in Southern California.

AFWG & Penalty For Participation Rates Still Alive While DOE Racks Up More FOIA Violations

Before you read this, you absolutely have to read State Rep. Kim Williams breakdown of their last meeting.  This is essential!

Okay, welcome back.  The Accountability Framework Working Group met last week for their second to last meeting.  Their next meeting will be on October 5th at 1:00pm.  I put all the notes from their first 11 meetings here and they have since updated the DOE website to include the notes from Meetings #12-14, and Agendas for #14 and #15.  Keep in mind the notes were written by the Delaware DOE.

Meeting #12 happened the same day I broke the news about this group and the whole participation rate thing.  I had not delved too deep into it at this point, and it would stand to reason the meeting happened around the same time as my article went up that day.  The key part from this meeting is this:

…as well as ensuring that schools with significant achievement gaps in ELA and Math proficiency and the four-year graduation rate do not receive the state’s highest rating.

Of particular interest is this part about what is required under ESEA and what constitutes a school getting the highest rating.  This will play a huge part later on in this article.  This meeting also had the first mention of Regulation 103 which had already been submitted to the Delaware Register of Regulations at this point.

Meeting #13 was held on September 2nd.  I don’t know how many members of the AFWG were aware of my articles on this group at this point, but I know for a fact at least three of them were.  Nothing was said about participation rate or Regulation 103 at this meeting as per the notes.

Now where things get really interesting, and nobody really knew, was the DOE all of a sudden put out an agenda for the next meeting of the AFWG on September 17th.  By state law, if you are putting out an agenda, it has to be done a week ahead of time if it is a public meeting.  This agenda was NOT on the DOE website as of 9/14/15 because I looked that day.  If you look on the Delaware Public Meeting Calendar you can see this listed as a Public Meeting.  However, if you right click on the actual PDF created by Jennifer Roussell at the Delaware DOE on 9/16/15 at 8:36am in the morning, the Delaware Department of Education violated FOIA law by not announcing this a week earlier.

The proverbial stuff hit the fan at Meeting #14 on September 17th.  This was the same day as the State Board of Education meeting and news of Regulation 103 and its implications for Delaware schools spread like wildfire prior to this meeting.

Note that the group unanimously voted down the participation rate against proficiency.  But the AFWG does not have the final say on this.  That is the State Board of Education, who had quite a bit of discussion about this along with members of the public at their meeting that day.

But what the AFWG member who spoke at the State Board of Education meeting did not say was this:

The AFWG members present unanimously recommended removing Participation Rate for the Adjusted Proficiency calculation. Further discussion on the accountability consequence for schools missing the 95% target was requested. Initial feedback supported a rule that no school could receive the highest performance rating on DSSF if they missed the 95% threshold.

Since that meeting, I requested from Dr. Penny Schwinn and Ryan Reyna at the Delaware DOE the exact law, code, or regulation which states participation rate is required to be any part of a state’s accountability system.  As well, Schwinn said at the 9/17 State Board of Education meeting she was going to request this from US DOE.  To date, NOTHING has been presented.  I spent countless hours going through federal laws concerning this and ESEA waiver laws, rules and guidance, and there is absolutely NOTHING in Federal law that states this is a requirement.  NOTHING.  DOE knows this, but they are stalling.  AFWG needs to stop relying on the word of Penny Schwinn and actually research this for themselves.  But please keep in mind this is what the DOE wrote in the notes and may not actually be what was discussed.  If any member of the AFWG wants to contact me about this, please do so.

Last week, on 9/23/15, the AFWG held their 15th meeting.  Again, an agenda was put up, without 7 full days notice.  It is one again on the Public Meeting Calendar and this one even says there can be public comment at the meeting.  If you do the right-click thing again on this PDF and go to document properties, it was created on 9/17/15.  Two public meeting FOIA violations.

Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams attended this meeting as I wrote earlier.

The group will meet again on 10/5/15, but you won’t find it on the DOE website.  You have to look in the Delaware Public Meeting Calendar again but at least they got the agenda out more than seven days before the public meeting.  Maybe they were thinking if you add up all the days together for the last three meetings that would be sufficient enough to get a total of twenty-one days.  But that is some fuzzy math, cause that would only be seventeen days…

This will (for now), be the last meeting of the AFWG.  Will you be there?  Of course, it’s on a Monday afternoon, during that oh-so-convenient time for working parents and teachers to come.  But we can’t interfere with the State Board of Education’s Grotto’s Smarter Balanced party at 4pm.  Or the Charter School public hearings beginning at 4pm.

But this has to be the last meeting because it needs to be presented to the Delaware Education Support System group the next day, also during the same hours between 1-4pm.  The group that has no agenda and does not take minutes for their meetings.  Because it is so important to present it to this clandestine group but not parents in a transparent way…

This whole thing has become the biggest debacle in DOE history.  They are breaking the law all over the place.  And yes, I have already submitted two more FOIA complaints for their latest public meeting decisions concerning the AFWG for a grand total of seven pending complaints with the Delaware Department of Justice and two with the federal US DOE.

 

 

Delaware DOE wants to charge $300 “DTI Fee” For Any FOIA Request Submitted Now

If you file a Freedom of Information request with the Delaware Department of Education for anything electronic, you can be sure you will be charged an “entrance fee” of $300 right off the bat.  Even if it is one email, for one five minute period of a given day.  How the hell does this make sense?  What is the point of FOIA if the General Fund is just going to reap the benefits?  This is highway robbery.  The F in FOIA stands for Freedom, not Fee.  When I have to search my email for something, it takes about three minutes if I have a lot of entries for that person.

Alison May is the Public Information Officer at the DOE, Katisha Fortune is the attorney at the Department of Justice who handled my FOIA complaint earlier this year and ruled the DOE overcharged me by almost $7000.00 for a FOIA request, Catherine Hickey is the DOJ attorney assigned to DOE, and Jackie Edge is…the survey monkey employee at DOE?

From: DOE FOIA <DOE.FOIA@doe.k12.de.us>
To: “kevino3670@yahoo.com” <kevino3670@yahoo.com>
Sent: Friday, September 11, 2015 8:07 AM
Subject: RE: FOIA request

Kevin,

The DTI estimate for this request is $300, which DTI says covers the staff time to extract data that meets your criteria from email archives.   The DTI Engineering Team’s labor rate is $100/hr.  According to DTI, the tasks that are involved with compiling this e-records request include:

·            Configure search strings

·            Conduct search

·            Scrub results to ensure no unintended content is included

·            Compile results

·            Commit results to media     

DTI requires payment before it does a search. Please make sure your check is made payable to DTI, not DDOE.

The Department of Education is responsible for redacting any emails deemed to be non-public, as defined by  the FOIA Chapter of the Delaware Code at 29 Del. C. sec. 100, including emails to/from the Controller General’s Staff, General Assembly and staff (29 Del. C. sec. 10002(l)(16)).

If this takes more than an hour, the rate for this work is $22.27 per hour. This payment would be due to the Department of Education and may be required before work begins.

To proceed with the request, please submit a check for $300 payable to DTI and send to:

DTI FOIA Coordinator

William Penn Building

801 Silver Lake Blvd

Dover, DE  19904

Once a check is received the data will be loaded on a CD and delivered to DOE. I will update you at this time.

DTI has this request in its queue but will not start work until it receives the check from you.  If DTI does not receive payment in 30 days, DTI will close the request.


From: kevino3670@yahoo.com [mailto:kevino3670@yahoo.com]
Sent: Thursday, September 10, 2015 11:48 AM
To: DOE FOIA
Cc: kevino3670@yahoo.com
Subject: FOIA request

 

Request Date: Thursday, September 10, 2015

Recipient: Doe.foia@doe.k12.de.us

Name: Kevin Ohlandt
Address1: 9 Crosley Ct
Address2:
Address3:
City: Dover
State: DE
Zip Code: 19904

Phone: 302-922-7244
Email: kevino3670@yahoo.com

Request: Please forward me, in digital format, any emails between Susan Haberstroh, Donna Johnson, Ryan Reyna, or Penny Schwinn to Yvette Smallwood or Vicki Schultes between the dates of 8/1/15 and 8/31/15.

Cost: 9.10


From: Kevin Ohlandt [mailto:kevino3670@yahoo.com]
Sent: Friday, September 11, 2015 11:05 AM
To: DOE FOIA
Cc: Fortune Katisha D
Subject: Re: FOIA request
 
Dear whatever Human Being is actually reading this:
 
Are you trying to tell me that ANY FOIA request submitted to the Delaware Department of Education for anything electronic will always have an automatic $300 fee?  This is ridiculous.  You do realize you are using these fees to consciously prevent Delaware citizens from reasonably getting information, right?  I will make sure the people know about this policy of yours.  It isn’t right, and it should not be legal.
 
Kevin Ohlandt (a real human being)

From: DOE FOIA <DOE.FOIA@doe.k12.de.us>
To: Kevin Ohlandt <kevino3670@yahoo.com>
Cc: Fortune Katisha D <katisha.fortune@state.de.us>
Sent: Friday, September 11, 2015 11:17 AM
Subject: RE: FOIA request

Kevin,

This is a DTI, not a DOE, charge. You should contact DTI with any questions related to its work.
Sandra.Alexander@state.de.us is the DTI contact.
Alison
 
Alison May
Public information officer
Delaware Department of Education
401 Federal Street, Suite #2
Dover, DE 19901-3639
302.735.4000 (T) 302.735.4654 (F)

From: Kevin Ohlandt <kevino3670@yahoo.com>
To: DOE FOIA <DOE.FOIA@doe.k12.de.us>
Cc: Fortune Katisha D <katisha.fortune@state.de.us>
Sent: Friday, September 11, 2015 11:24 AM
Subject: Re: FOIA request

Alison,
So let me ask this.  If I were to just simply ask the DOE for this information, would they provide it?  Instead of filing a FOIA request?  Because I did that last Spring for an email that I know exists, from one person, for a two day period, and I was told it wasn’t found, but DTI could do their $300 search…
Has the Delaware Department of Education become so corrupt that they will conduct official state business in email that will never see the light of day unless you are wealthy enough to afford it?
Katisha: Please add this to my numerous complaints I filed with the DOJ against DOE yesterday.  Thank you,
Kevin Ohlandt

From: “Fortune, Katisha D (DOJ)” <Katisha.Fortune@state.de.us>
To: ‘Kevin Ohlandt’ <kevino3670@yahoo.com>
Cc: “Hickey, Catherine T. (DOJ)” <Cathreine.Hickey@state.de.us>
Sent: Friday, September 11, 2015 11:32 AM
Subject: RE: FOIA request

Kevin, are you now filing a formal complaint with the AG’s office under 10005(e)?

 From: Kevin Ohlandt <kevino3670@yahoo.com>
To: “Fortune, Katisha D (DOJ)” <Katisha.Fortune@state.de.us>
Cc: “Hickey, Catherine T. (DOJ)” <Cathreine.Hickey@state.de.us>
Sent: Friday, September 11, 2015 11:33 AM
Subject: Re: FOIA request

Kathisha,
Yes, I am afraid I am, twice in one year. 
Thank you,
Kevin

So if I’m not already ticked off, look at the email I get while all of this is going on:

From: “jackie.edge@doe.k12.de.us via surveymonkey.com” <member@surveymonkey.com>
To: kevino3670@yahoo.com
Sent: Friday, September 11, 2015 11:22 AM
Subject: Reminder: We want your opinion!

DE School Success Reports: Parent & Community Survey
The Delaware Department of Education needs your feedback on how best to present information on school performance to parents and community members! Would you please consider sharing two minutes of your time and participate in our survey on Delaware’s School Success Reports?

Click the button below to start or continue the survey. Thank you again for your participation, and please share the survey broadly with your friends and networks!

Click the button below to start or continue the survey. Thank you for your time.

Begin Survey
Please do not forward this email as its survey link is unique to you.
Opt out of receiving surveys from this sender
Powered by SurveyMonkey Logo
 Okay, they don’t want parents opting out, but I can opt out of this?  I sent a response:

From: Kevin Ohlandt <kevino3670@yahoo.com>
To: “jackie.edge@doe.k12.de.us” <jackie.edge@doe.k12.de.us>
Sent: Friday, September 11, 2015 11:26 AM
Subject: Re: Reminder: We want your opinion!

Jackie,
Stop sending me this email to your ridiculous survey.  This is the 3rd one in four days.  Enough.  Now DOE wants parent & community feedback? After they already submitted stuff into a regulation that will screw over every school in the state? Really?
Kevin Ohlandt

And the beat goes on…

Yesterday, Mike Matthews referred to the DOE as a “Mobius strip of bullshit”.  I completely agree Mike.

Priority Schools-The Truth Revealed Part 39 **”But Wait, Didn’t Red Clay Come Up With….”**

We have reached the end of the Delaware Priority Schools FOIA Saga.  This picture actually harkens back to the bygone days of the Summer of 2014, but it was always my intention to save this one for last.

Scan0033

At this point in time you are probably thinking “Uh, okay, what’s the big deal about this?  Just another education reform Turnaround School document.  I’m sure these are a dime a dozen around the DOE offices.”  You are right.  But if you look at the bottom right corner, there is an emblem for the University of Virginia.  The very same university that Red Clay put in their priority schools plan to use as a vendor to help out with their priority schools.  But if the DOE used WestEd earlier in the summer to get help with the Memorandum of Understanding and the methodology for the calculation of the priority schools, and Red Clay used University of Virginia, doesn’t that mean…  Yes, there was some collusion somewhere along the way between the summer and when Red Clay officially signed on in December 2014…

We know Penny Schwinn used WestEd as a consultant in the summer, and she asked them for a turnaround plan to work on the Delaware priority schools initiative. Did she work with someone at Red Clay in advance to get the University of Virginia thing going? Who? Hugh Broomall? He is mentioned in a couple emails in this FOIA party. This Transparent Christina link may shed some light on what was going on at Red Clay when they announced this:

There will be one more part after this, maybe two. I want to put all this together along with some other sources and put a working theory together on what the DOE was up to with the whole priority schools deal.

Delaware Priority Schools-The Truth Revealed Part 38 **The Masterplan**

We are at the bottom of the ninth inning in this priority schools FOIA story.  In this one, you can see the actual timeframe for the whole kit and caboodle.

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Is this even real?  If this was included as a part of a FOIA request, it would be assumed the dates would show a completion date.  Why was this not done?  Why wasn’t that included with the request?  And MM is definitely Mark Murphy, the Secretary of Education.  This document does show that Penny Schwinn had the bulk of the lifting work on the priority schools.  Something she had very little experience with prior to her appointment at the DOE.

Delaware Priority Schools: The Truth Revealed Part 37 **The Unfair Comparison**

In order to sell the methodology for the six priority schools in Red Clay and Christina, the DOE had to find comparison schools. One of the biggest schools the DOE praised was all the way down in Dover in the Capital School District. What made Booker T. Washington Elementary School so awesome (aside from the fact my own son went there during the 2nd half of 4th grade)?

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Many viewed the rise of Booker T. as an unfair comparison. First off, Booker T. stops at 4th grade, so there was no 5th grade scores to compare it to. Second, Booker T. includes the “gifted and talented program” so there is also a rise in standardized test scores. Third, Capital changed their zoning a few years previous so the very demographics of the school were changing over time. An unfair comparison indeed!

Priority Schools: The Truth Revealed Part 36 **The Legislator Q&A**

It’s been a couple weeks, but we are nearing the end in the Priority Schools FOIA Saga.  In this edition, see how a state representative challenged the Delaware Department of Education and would not stop asking them essential questions that needed answers.  Did the DOE satisfactorily answer the legislator’s questions?  And what school in Delaware mistakenly received $500,000.00 in Federal government funding?  Find out NOW:

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Yes, State Rep. Kim Williams was one of the legislators who not only submitted FOIA requests to the DOE immediately after the announcement, but also pounded the DOE with question after question.

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Was the Delaware DOE completely truthful with Rep. Williams?  She asked the DOE how the schools were approved, and they informed her this was based on the ESEA requested/approved methodology.  Which means the DOE created the very rubric to label the six schools.  If you read the earlier parts in this, you can see whodunit and how!

And Moyer got $500,000 in partnership zone funds when they weren’t even legally a partnership zone school because they changed hands and were a “new” school.  Did Moyer ever return those funds?  And who was the Delaware DOE employee who is no longer employed with them?  Talk about a colossal mistake!

Delaware Priority Schools: The Truth Revealed Part 35

In the Delaware Priority Schools saga, which is still going on believe it or not, many citizens, teachers, parents and even legislators started questioning the Delaware Department of Education about what was really going on.  The email below, sent by a very prominent person in Delaware education, asked many questions.  I will have to reach out to him to see if he ever received a response.  This individual cares about education so much he gives up a lot of his own time to try to make it better.

Priority6

Yes, this is none other than Mike Matthews, President of the Red Clay Educators Association (RCEA), and a teacher at Warner Elementary School.  Mike is always on the front lines in the education battles in Delaware, and he is not afraid to tell the DOE exactly what he thinks.  When I first met Mike, at a Delaware State Board of Education meeting last August, he was cutting out decorations for his classroom during the meeting.  Since then, Mike and I talk a lot about education matters.  He also used to write a very popular blog in Delaware called “Down With Absolutes”.  Mike is relinquishing his teacher duties and going full-time with his RCEA role.  I see Mike one day leading all of DSEA, and eventually I could see him in a political role in our state.  I feel fortunate to know Mike as he knows a ton of information about Delaware.

**UPDATED**10:54 am

Mike Matthews just emailed me the response from DOE to his questions:

—–Original Message—–
From: McLaughlin Mary Kate [mailto:marykate.mclaughlin@DOE.K12.DE.US]
Sent: Wednesday, September 17, 2014 12:04 PM
To: Matthews Michael; May Alison; Schwinn Penny
Cc: Kowalko John; Rivera Kenneth; Williams Kimberly
Subject: RE: Priority Schools

Mike – thanks for the back and forth this morning and for giving me a little time to get back to you. On your first question around the planner, the district can chose whomever they’d like for the planner – DOE will not micromanage this, including what the qualifications are. It is totally up to the district – that said, if they would like assistance identifying a person or group that does this work, we’ll be happy to help. Relative to your 10 or 12 month question, the plan is due December 31st, so the money would be used by then.

On your second question, the districts can put forward their choice for school leader – the goal should be that it is a person who can execute on the plan they’ve developed. There is not a list of potential school leaders, however, similar to my statement above, should the district ask for help in identifying candidates, we would be happy to help.

Hope this helps! mk

Delaware Priority Schools: The Truth Revealed Part 34

I told you it would be very soon till we got to the SIG funding issue.  Especially for Warner Elementary School and Bayard Middle School.  Someone may have to let me know if this is public knowledge, but since Warner and Bayard were labeled as priority schools, they are not eligible for SIG funding for the upcoming school year.  Another “oops” on the DOE’s part…

Priority4

Priority5

Once again more high fives among employees of the DOE!  “We made a goof but we fixed it and found out more reasons these schools will get less resources, gimme five!”  Not actually said, but the spirit is there…

Delaware Priority Schools: The Truth Revealed Part 33

This email sets up a controversial part of the priority school saga: how much funds the schools will get.  Note this is AFTER the announcement.  Not only Governor Markell not know the exact amount, but neither did the DOE apparently.

Priority2

Priority3

Remember the words about SIG funding, and any school with Title I funds can apply for those funds.  That will come into play very, very soon….  And what’s up with the schools receiving $10 million over four years?  Where did the other $4 million go that was unannounced?  And how come it doesn’t explicitly state the crazy $160,000 for the school leader that caused such an uproar…

Delaware Priority Schools: The Truth Revealed Part 32

What, you thought I was done?  Not by a long shot!  We last left off the night before the big announcement at Warner Elementary School.  Governor Markell announced the six priority schools, three in Red Clay and three in Christina.  And then the angst began!  Even Governor Markell’s Twitter account didn’t like the announcement.

So what’s a Delaware DOE to do after such a big announcement?  Take the day off?  Yeah right. They had to get the Memorandum of Understanding finalized!

Priority1

Really Penny?  Were those “good” days?  It’s so much fun to turn schools upside down.  How did it all work out in the end?  It was a public relations nightmare for the DOE.  Those are good times.  Let the good times roll.  I hate to see what you would view as bad times.