The D.C. Office of Inspector General (OIG) has released the bombshell report on preferential school admissions in 2015 by former D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson. Henderson, who left the D.C. schools in September 2016, repeatedly overruled the citywide lottery results and granted admission to highly desirable schools for D.C. and White House officials’ children.
However, the version just released to the public has more than 230 blacked-out details (called “redactions”) even though details of the school officials, families and schools involved have been in news accounts for some time and the full report has been posted online.
In a letter accompanying the release, the OIG told a reporter that the report falls in a special category of “investigatory” records “compiled for law enforcement purposes,” and that a “substantial privacy interest...outweighs any public gain from disclosure” of the concealed facts.
Henderson is identified but the masked items include
---names of DCPS school officials such as the chief operating officer and schools' principals who "found" slots;
---names of those seeking favors, their children's names and grade levels, the schools they wanted; and
---even the names of the OIG staff who gathered the information and reviewed the report.
The D.C. Open Government Coalition has been monitoring over-redaction of public records released under the D.C. Freedom of Information Act (such as video from police body-worn cameras). Since this example raised many questions, the Coalition has asked the Office of Open Government (OOG) to take a fresh look at the public interest and privacy issues involved. The law allows the Office to issue advisory opinions on how agencies do their job implementing the D.C. open records law.
The Coalition’s questions include:
---Is this report really for law enforcement purposes (so that heightened privacy rules apply)? Such unique school admissions were allowed by a regulation any time the chancellor found it in the best interest of a child and the school system, and the OIG acknowledged that no law-breaking was involved.
---Isn’t the public interest in knowing full details of what its government is up to most important, especially when questions of judgment by high officials are involved?
---Shouldn’t the law prohibit the OIG redacting a report over 230 times when the very same facts are already widely known and the full report available?
The Coalition request to OOG is linked below. Also linked are the redacted report the OIG released and their letter of explanation to the requesting reporter. Background on the report and links to some of the extensive press coverage are in an earlier Coalition blog post here.