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UFT sues DOE for failure to comply with Freedom of Information requests

Teachers say DOE ignored law by releasing heavily blacked-out records after two-year delay; ask court review of unredacted records

The UFT on Nov. 15 sued the New York City Department of Education over its failure to comply with Freedom of Information requests for copies of emails that link former Chancellor Joel Klein and senior DOE staffers with City Hall political figures and charter school proponents.

The UFT charged that the copies of the emails that were provided after a wait of nearly two years were so heavily redacted and blacked out that the DOE’s “unlawful conduct” has violated the state law that makes government records available to the public.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew said, “At the Department of Education, information is rarely free, particularly when important issues are involved. Like dozens of other organizations, from parent groups to the city’s media, the UFT has struggled to get the DOE to live up to its obligations to make public information public, and we have asked the courts to intervene.”

On May 28, 2010 the UFT requested copies of all emails between two or more of the following individuals: Joel Klein, John White, Kathleen Grimm, Michael Duffy, Christina Grant, Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson, Executive Director of Democrats for Education Reform Joe Williams, CEO of the New York City Charger School Center James Merriman, and political consultant Bradley Tusk since December 1, 2009.

It was only after the UFT filed suit in court nearly two years later — on April 3, 2012 — that the DOE began providing some of the data requested.

However the DOE redacted and withheld substantial information, claiming that certain records fell under statutory exemptions found in FOIL, including information related to collective bargaining, violations of personal privacy or information related to law enforcement investigations.

The suit charges that the DOE has failed to prove that some or all of the redacted information falls within the statutory exemptions the DOE has relied upon; it asks the court for an order directing, among other things, a detailed log of the privileges and exemptions the DOE is citing for every redaction, and for the DOE to submit the unredacted records for the court’s “in camera” review.

The lawsuit charges that: “The DOE’s reasons for redacting portions of records are arbitrary, unreasonable and irrational… such categorical descriptions of redacted material do not justify the withholding or redacting of records under FOIL.”

The exhibits include: a page that has been redacted entirely, including all email addresses, text and subject lines; large portions of text with everything but two words redacted, and lengthy messages regarding school closings redacted with no explanation. Click here for examples.

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