District 205 releases Hardy, Sheffield letters
To view a pdf of Dr. LaVonne Sheffield’s June 17, 2010, letter to Dr. Patrick Hardy titled “Re: Separation of Employment,” click here.
Dr. Patrick Hardy’s June 19, 2010, letter, titled “Rebuttal to Letter dated June 17, 2010 From Lavonne Sheffield,” is broken into the following three sections:
For pages 1-3 of Hardy’s letter, click here
For pages 4-6 of Hardy’s letter, click here
For pages 7-9 of Hardy’s letter, click here
By Joe McGehee
and Brandon Reid
Late this afternoon (Wednesday, Nov. 24), Rockford Public School District 205 released an unflattering letter written by former Rockford Auburn High School Principal and current Freeport High School Principal Dr. Patrick Hardy that The Rock River Times (TRRT) has been battling for more than four months to have released. The district also released the June 17, 2010, letter by District 205 Superintendent Dr. LaVonne M. Sheffield titled “Re: Separation of Employment,” which Hardy’s letter was in response to.
An e-mail sent by District 205 Chief Communications Officer Mark Bonne Nov. 24 stated: “Superintendent LaVonne M. Sheffield decided to make the letter public after being informed by Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP that the Public Access Counselor (PAC) for the Illinois Attorney General has issued a verbal opinion that Dr. Hardy’s letter does not fall within the FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] exemption regarding disciplinary documents, a distinction not previously addressed.”
District 205 asserted that it stands by its position that releasing the letter without Hardy’s permission would breach Hardy’s rights to confidentiality.
The verbal opinion issued by the PAC was in response to the district’s third attempt at an exemption to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). TRRT has been attempting since Aug. 18 to obtain the letter from District 205 through various FOIA requests. However, the district had refused to release the letter, even after the Illinois Attorney General’s PAC previously ruled twice the letter should be released under the FOIA.
The district filed two exemption requests with the PAC that claimed the letter was a private matter and a personnel matter, respectively. Both exemption requests were flatly rejected by the PAC Sept. 29. The PAC’s Sept. 29 ruling stated District 205 should “…release the letter to [TRRT Staff Writer] Mr. [Joe] McGehee after providing Dr. Hardy written notice…”. The PAC office went on to state that their ruling should “…serve to close this matter.”
The Illinois Press Association (IPA), TRRT and TRRT Staff Writer Joe McGehee filed a lawsuit against District 205 and Sheffield Nov. 3 stemming from the district’s refusal to follow the FOIA and release the letter. The district’s Nov. 24 release of the letter will not affect the course of that lawsuit.
A preliminary hearing in the lawsuit filed against District 205 by TRRT and the IPA is scheduled for Feb. 2, 2011, in Room 426 of the Winnebago County Courthouse. If the IPA and TRRT are victorious, District 205 would be responsible for not only covering the legal fees of the plaintiffs, but could also face fines of up to $5,000.
The IPA and TRRT are among the first to file suit against a public body under the revised FOIA in the state of Illinois. In fact, District 205 is the first public body in the state to face litigation for not adhering to the guidelines of the FOIA.
According to the complaint: “The School District willfully and intentionally failed to comply with the FOIA in relying on a series of baseless exemptions, one after another, in an effort to avoid compliance with the FOIA and eventually abandoning those exemptions only to cite further inapplicable exemptions.”
The complaint also asserts that “In alleging those baseless exemptions of the FOIA, the School District acted in bad faith.”
TRRT issued the following statement Nov. 24: “The Rock River Times is pleased to see District 205 finally follow the letter of the law and release Dr. Patrick Hardy’s letter to the public. The district’s refusal to comply with the Freedom of Information Act—even after twice being ordered to do so by the Illinois Attorney General’s Public Access Counselor—set an extremely poor example for the students of the district that suggested administrators were somehow above the law. Additionally, the district’s refusal to release the letter sent an unfortunate message to the community that suggested District 205 administrators—including members of the Board of Education—were answerable to no one. Indeed, District 205 is the largest taxing body in the City of Rockford, and taxpayers have a right to hold those who oversee the district accountable for their actions. The release of this letter is central to the media’s role in assisting taxpayers with fulfilling that right.
“We also find it unfortunate that District 205 clearly employed a strategy of releasing the letter just prior to the Thanksgiving holiday with the hope it would be lost amid the hustle and bustle of the season. The letter easily could have been released at the Nov. 23 Board of Education meeting—or even sooner.
“With regard to our lawsuit against Rockford Public School District 205, we will continue with our efforts to ensure the public’s right to know is protected under the fullest extent of the law. A preliminary hearing in the case is scheduled for Feb. 2, 2011, in Room 426 of the Winnebago County Courthouse.”
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