TN Parent’s Freedom of Information Lawsuit Gets Hearing

Next week, a Chancery court judge will hear final arguments in a parent’s lawsuit against the Rutherford County Board of Education involving an open records request and the cost to fulfill it, writes Mealand Ragland-Hudgins at dnj.com.

Court testimony revealed Monday that the dispute initially stemmed from questions about how the money raised by a Parent Teacher Club at Homer Pittard Campus School was spent.

Tracy Pack testified in Chancery Court that he tried to request information on how Principal Chontel Bridgeman spent funds raised by the PTC and later directed into the school’s account in May 2010.

Pack, a local orthodontist, testified that he contacted Jeff Sandvig, assistant superintendent of finance for Rutherford County Schools, to retrieve the information, after receiving what he considered “less than professional emails” from Bridgeman in response to his records request.

Goodman made several requests for records on his client’s behalf, including a six-page request for 22 separate items in March 2011. In turn, the district provided an itemized cost estimate of what it would cost to produce each item due to the bulk of the request, which totaled $4,005.81.

The request included copies of nearly 15,000 emails Bridgeman sent or received, copies of hard drives on any computers the principal used, Internet usage logs and audits of school bank accounts.

“They’re hoping, I guess, they can bleed him dry,” Goodman told Chancellor Corlew.

School board attorney Jeff Reed said the cost estimate “hung up the matter,” but Pack disagreed.

“These issues have taken on a life of their own,” Reed said. “Personal issues between the principal and parents are the basis for these requests.”

Goodman said it doesn’t matter what the reason for the request is, but that citizens have the right to demand certain records to hold public officials and employees accountable for their actions.

Among the items Goodman requested was records on a laptop computer the PTC had purchased for Bridgeman. The computer was said to have gone missing after Bridgeman left it unattended during a teacher retreat at Vanderbilt University in June 2010, Bridgeman said during a July 28 deposition.

Those representing the school system and Bridgeman contended that some questions may have referred to actions the principal took part in — writing letters to the Department of Justice and local NAACP chapter regarding vandalism of the school’s marquee — occurred during her personal time and not officially on behalf of the school system.

Chancellor Corlew said he would allow Bridgeman to participate in a second deposition to have the questions answered.

“I understand the concerns each party has raised. I’ll acknowledge, with some hesitancy, to continue the deposition. I fear you’ll deal with some questions and answers and you’ll be back again,” the judge said.

Corlew instructed Goodman to tailor future deposition questions solely to the request for records.

Matthew Tabor

Matthew Tabor

Matthew is a prolific, independent voice in the national education debate. He is a tireless advocate for high academic standards from pre-K through graduate school, fiscal sense and personal responsibility. He values parents’ and families’ rights and believes in accountability for teachers, administrators, politicians and all taxpayer-funded education entities. With a unique background that includes work in higher education, executive recruiting, professional sport and government, Matthew has consulted on new media and communication strategies for a broad range of clients. He writes the blog “Education for the Aughts” at www.matthewktabor.com , has contributed to National Journal’s ‘Expert’ blog for Education , and interacts with the education community on Twitter and Google+.