The Better Government Association and NBC 5 Chicago are suing Chicago Public Schools alleging that the school district “willfully and intentionally violated” public records requests by failing to reply to them.
The lawsuit, filed Sept. 5 in Cook County Circuit Court, accuses CPS of systematically failing to comply with Freedom of Information Act requests in a timely manner and asks a judge to “correct this systematic failure.”
The association cited CPS’ “long history of ignoring FOIA requests and blowing through legally established deadlines to comply with them,” and noted in the complaint that aside from the specific requests filed by the BGA and NBC there were dozens of other requests to which CPS never responded until the requester asked the Illinois attorney general’s office to intervene.
“CPS officials should know better — they expect school children to follow the rules and they should do the same,” BGA president Andy Shaw said in a statement.
“The law is clear: The public has a right to examine records in the possession of public agencies. CPS has no right to delay, ignore or withhold information from taxpayers and the press.
“If we were issuing grades, we’d give CPS’ FOIA process an ‘F.'”
CPS spokesman Bill McCaffrey declined to comment on the pending litigation.
“We have recently implemented a newFOIA management software system and are actively taking steps to improve response times and comply with the law,” he said in an email. “Our goal is to always engagethe public and media in an open and transparent manner.”One of the requests from the BGA filed in April asked for “copies of any and all settlement agreements, severance agreements and termination agreements approved or adopted from Jan. 1, 2013, until present.” A CPS FOIA officer said the request was too burdensome, claiming erroneously that the association hadn’t specified a time frame. After the BGA pointed out the dates included in the request, CPS still never responded.
NBC 5 Chicago requested last December a list of CPS’ closed school buildings and the cost to provide heat, lights and water to them, according to the suit. The district asked for additional time — beyond the five to 10 business days granted in the state’s public records law — and then “failed to provide any further response,” the suit reads.