Coles Co. (ECWd) -
During a recent Charleston School Board meeting we noticed the local reporter for the newspaper was present. In light of the teacher that had been arrested and questions raised during the meeting, many had hoped the local paper would have reported on it. They didn't. Our first article after that meeting is found at this link, and in the video, you will see the local reporter sitting in front of the camera to the right.
It turns out a citizen contacted the paper to complain about the lack of reporting on what they believed was an important issue, child safety. Shortly after those complaints, we were contacted by the paper.
The local paper has focused on the shredding of documents and whether they are or are not public records. In the first article, they misquoted my comments. They reported my position to be: "Allen said he interprets the act as indicating that these items are student records."
At no time did I ever tell them that was my position. I contacted them and asked for a correction to their mistake.
Their response: "I may have gotten confused when I spoke with you. We can look at doing a clarification/correction/follow up, but my editor asked if you can elaborate a bit first."
Elaborate I did. I shared all my communications with the School Board President, which included the very state laws that support our position. Sadly, no correction was published in the paper. Instead, they ran another story focusing on records with no correction to the previous mistake and once again, they got it wrong. "Watchdogs co-founder Allen has said that he does not believe the photos and questionnaires were student records."
The School Code that I provided to the paper, outlines the definition of a Student Record.
105 ILCS 10/2 (d)- "School Student Record" means any writing or other recorded information concerning a student and by which a student may be individually identified, maintained by a school or at its direction or by an employee of a school, regardless of how or where the information is stored. The following shall not be deemed school student records under this Act: writings or other recorded information maintained by an employee of a school or other person at the direction of a school for his or her exclusive use; provided that all such writings and other recorded information are destroyed not later than the student's graduation or permanent withdrawal from the school;
As confirmed by the School, the photos of the children were done at the direction of the Administration, which would make them a student record. Also confirmed by the School Board President, the questionnaires were NOT at the direction of the school nor maintained by the school. They were maintained by the now arrested teacher. The direction to collect that data from students is key as the second part of the statute would allow for destruction provided the information was maintained by an employee of a school "at the direction of a school for his or her exclusive use". Since there was no direction, there is no destruction authorization under that statute.
The questionnaires were not a student record as defined in the statute. We contend they were a public record subject to the local records act that requires permission to destroy them.
50 ILCS 205/3 - "Public record" means any book, paper, map, photograph, born-digital electronic material, digitized electronic material, electronic material with a combination of digitized and born-digital material, or other official documentary material, regardless of physical form or characteristics, made, produced, executed or received by any agency or officer pursuant to law or in connection with the transaction of public business and preserved or appropriate for preservation by such agency or officer, or any successor thereof, as evidence of the organization, function, policies, decisions, procedures, or other activities thereof, or because of the informational data contained therein. Library and museum material made or acquired and preserved solely for reference or exhibition purposes, extra copies of documents preserved only for convenience of reference, and stocks of publications and of processed documents are not included within the definition of public record. Paper copies of registration records, as defined in Section 1 of the Library Records Confidentiality Act (75 ILCS 70/1), shall not be considered public records once the information contained in the paper registration records is transferred into a secure electronic format and checked for accuracy. (Source: P.A. 99-147, eff. 1-1-16.)
The records were in connection with a teacher's transaction of a public business, teaching. They were received by the Administration (agency or officer) after complaints came in. Those materials were in paper form. Every one of those points is prongs defining what is a public record.
50 ILCS 205/4 - (a) Except as otherwise provided in subsection (b) of this Section, all public records made or received by, or under the authority of, or coming into the custody, control or possession of any officer or agency shall not be mutilated, destroyed, transferred, removed or otherwise damaged or disposed of, in whole or in part, except as provided by law. Any person who knowingly, without lawful authority and with the intent to defraud any party, public officer, or entity, alters, destroys, defaces, removes, or conceals any public record commits a Class 4 felony.
After reading the two stories in the paper we felt we not only had to tell the real story in this article but also set the record straight with this current article.
If reporters are not going to do the hard working of fact-checking and ensuring the accuracy of their reporting we will continue to see a decay in print media as well as electronic media as the public simply can no longer trust what it reads. We have an obligation to get it right and when we don't, correct it with accurate reporting.
Check back for yet another exposure of local media failures as it relates to reporting on the Coles County Sheriff's election.