NORTH BEND — The North Bend School District has refused to fill a public records request made by attorneys representing former North Bend High School Principal Bill Lucero.
Since entering a settlement with the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon that resulted in Lucero's demotion, the district has stonewalled his attorneys.
Though the district reluctantly filled these requests by The World, it is standing firm against Lucero’s legal team.
Now attorneys Roland Iparraguirre and Shannon Rickard are taking their request for public documents to Coos County District Attorney Paul Fraiser in an effort to force the district into transparency.
In a July 16 letter from Iparraguirre to the North Bend School District, obtained by The World through its own public records request, he outlined the back and forth between his office and the district.
In response to his initial request for eight public documents, the district wrote his office a letter on June 21 issuing a denial for each item, citing a long list of Oregon State Statutes in its defense.
“Generally, the records related to the student complaints are exempt from disclosure because they contain confidential student information protected by FERPA ...,” the district’s letter stated. “Redaction of these records would be legally insufficient because the information would remain personally identifiable. The litigation related to these complaints has not concluded. Therefore, the majority of the requested records are also exempt from disclosure ... .”
Iparraguirre’s office responded in a June 25 letter to the district, stating, “Your blanket list of exemptions for entire categories of records is not sufficient.”
The initial documents requested were:
- All records between current school board members, or between Superintendent Bill Yester, relating with the ACLU of Oregon settlements with Hailey Smith and Liv Funk
- All district policies or school board resolutions delegating authority to the superintendent, which the district told Iparraguirre is available online
- All records sent to or received by Yester or the school board that mention Lucero.
- All contracts or other records of the district hiring an expert consultant to train administrators, teachers, and staff on topics of sexual orientation-based harassment
- All documents distributed to the school board and staff at public board meetings or work sessions from May 1, 2018 to present
- Any agenda, recording, and meeting minutes relating to a board meeting on the week of June 4, 2018, which is in response to a statement read by the board chair on June 11 where a meeting “last week” was referenced
- All records received by Yester or any school board member from the district’s attorney Rebekah Jacobson related to ODE, the ACLU of Oregon, or other attorneys for Liv Funk and Hailey Smith
- All records related to payment costs for attorney fees made by the district in terms of the ACLU of Oregon settlement
As for Iparraguirre’s request for records regarding a meeting on the week of June 4, the district denied that a meeting was ever held.
“We do not see how that is possible,” Iparraguirre wrote. “If there are no responsive records, then somehow every board member magically knew to show up for a meeting at a particular place, date, and time with no meeting request, no email, nothing. This simply defies logic. There must have been some communication to even set up this meeting.”
Then, in a July 4 letter, Iparraguirre explained that Request 4 stems from the ACLU of Oregon settlement where it requires the district to consult with an expert to develop and implement a comprehensive plan preventing and addressing sexual orientation-based harassment.
“We know there is a settlement agreement that exists ... yet you continue to assert that there are no responsive documents,” he wrote. “We also know that the entire board met and discussed its decision to move forward and agreed to work with and follow the recommendations of the expert, because a statement to that effect was read into public record at a public board meeting, yet surprisingly the district has not provided a written statement . . . nor any other documents related to that discussion.
“This does not engender a feeling that we are being dealt with in a fair and transparent manner, but rather makes us suspicious of what else the district might be hiding.”
In fact, he went on to explain that “the level of transparency is expected of public entities, and more than that, if we had any basis to understand what the District is withholding and why, we may agree with the District’s position and be able to move forward accordingly.”
Now Lucero’s legal team is appealing to District Attorney Paul Fraiser to provide a ruling to either force the district to hand over three of the eight documents, or agree that they don’t qualify as public record.
The documents being appealed are Request 1, 3, and 7.
“Our only recourse at this point is to seek an order from your office directing the district to disclose the requested records,” Iparraguirre wrote to Fraiser. “... the district’s blanket nondisclosure is unlawful, and allows us zero opportunity to assess whether we agree with the exemption(s) claimed ... the district’s unwillingness to follow even basic tenets of the public records law is inexcusable.”
Iparraguirre released a statement to The World on Wednesday, explaining that Lucero is specifically concerned about the settlement agreement and whether or not Yester had the authority to sign it without a board vote.
“If the agreement was signed without the authority or without the vote of the board, then we want to know so we can evaluate and investigate if there was a valid agreement,” Iparraguirre said. “We’re not getting that information from the district.”
As for why the district appears to be stonewalling the process, Iparraguirre isn’t sure.
“It’s clear to us that the information we asked for is public record,” he said. “If, in fact, there are votes required for the board to conduct its business, we are having a difficult time in ascertaining when those votes took place, if they did.”
When The World asked the district for a response on being taken before the district attorney on this issue, Communications Specialist Brad Bixler emailed a statement from board chair Alane Jennings dated June 6, a day when no official meeting was publicly held.
“... the LBGTQ discrimination complaint was filed directly with the Department of Education, bypassing the school board,” Jennings stated, according to the email. “Mr. Yester kept us apprised with updates over several months regarding the status of the complaint, and consulted both myself and the board vice chair prior to signing the settlement agreement.
“Last week, during our board meeting, we received additional updates regarding the settlement and the district’s current activities to address all concerns. We had a productive discussion that included every board member, and the outcome was a heartfelt assertion that our job as board members is to work with district leadership in moving forward.”
Jennings added that the Superintendent’s Policy Committee plans on working with expert consultants regarding the district’s policies and procedures.
“We have work to do,” she said.