VIDEO: Darien resident argues case for release of more FOI-requested documents at commission hearing
Darien resident Jay Hardison and counsel for the Darien School District appeared before the Freedom of Information Commission in Hartford on Wednesday afternoon to debate the release of documents requested by Hardison from the district. Hardison filed a complaint with the commission after the district denied his FOI request on the basis of the The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974. The FOI requests continue to relate to an incident at an October 2016 football game at which Coach Rob Trifone struck the helmet of a student and received a suspension.
FERPA is a federal law that protects the privacy of student education records. The law applies to all schools that receive funds under an applicable program of the U.S. Department of Education. In July, the FOI Commission found that some of the records requested did not meet the criteria protected by FERPA and should be released.
Hardison has made repeated FOI requests and circulated emailed accusations about abuse, cover-ups and illegal activity on the district's part to nearly 100 town officials, residents and members of the media that eventually resulted in a Darien Police review of the matter.
The chief of police released the departments findings directly, saying no criminal activity had been proven and the investigation was closed.
The school district and Board of Ed counsel, Melika Forbes of Shipman & Goodwin, appealed the July finding and the parties met to discuss the appeal. Hearing officer Victor Perpetua discussed the meaning of educational records as an argument for withholding the FOI requested documents. Perpetua pointed out that items that indirectly related to the students could describe every record the Board of Education or the school district holds and be used to deny FOI requests — since that is their function.
The school counsel argued that certain phrases and staff names in the documents reveal a specific educational program that only certain students receive and thus would reveal private student education information and ID the student.
After debate, the FOI Commission agreed to allow the schools to redact certain information, but not before expressing some frustration with what some commissioners felt was pushing the envelope in redaction reasons and requests.
Twice, during the hearing, Hardison asked the FOI Commission to impose sanctions on the school district and Board of Education for what he described as intentional lack of compliance with FOI laws.
Watch the full video here, courtesy of Darien TV 79.