“None of this happened when I was here.”
By VIKTORIA SUNDQVIST and TRACY KENNEDY
May 23, 2008
HARTFORD — The Region 10 school district must provide uncensored copies of legal bills related to the Avery Doninger free speech case, the state’s Freedom of Infor-mation Commission ruled Tuesday.
Copies of legal bills were produced by the school district but contained blacked-out sections that Commissioner Dennis E. O’Connor ruled should be disclosed, including student initials. The full commission’s ruling is expected June 11.
The ruling stems from three complaints filed by Andy Thibault, of Litchfield, in August after the school district failed to provide copies of write-in votes, legal bills and other documents.
“They lied to me and said the write-in ballots don’t exist,” Thibault said Thursday. “Region 10 now has to [produce] billing records and follow the law from now on. They are on notice to stop violating the FOI laws.”
The documents contained information related to former Superintendent of Schools Paula Schwartz’s action to bar Doninger from running for school secretary in her senior year at Lewis S. Mills High School in Burlington. Doninger and her parents filed a lawsuit against Schwartz and the school principal for violating her First Amendment rights when she was prevented from running in the election after she used a derogatory term on her blog referring to Region 10 school officials after they canceled the Spring 2007 Jamfest. Doninger’s classmates wrote her name on the ballots, but the ballots were not considered by the school. The case is pending in federal court.
“There were a number of allegations about hidden documents, but the commission didn’t find that any of that had occurred,” countered Region 10 attorney Christine Chinni, of the Avon firm Chinni & Meuser. “The commission agreed that we did not have them.”
If the school is unhappy with the commission’s decision, the case can be taken to court, Chinni said.
Thibault said he wants the legal bills so taxpayers can see how their money has been wasted defending the school officials in the case.
“I’m a citizen and a writer who believes in freedom of speech and civil rights,” Thibault said. “I live in Litchfield County and I would like to stand up and say don’t let this happen here.”
Region 10 Superintendent of Schools Alan Beitman declined to comment on the issue Thursday, saying he doesn’t know much about it.
“None of this happened when I was here,” Beitman said after reviewing the commission’s decision. “Even the (Jan. 4) hearing was before I got here.”
Beitman took over as schools chief on Jan. 16.
Viktoria Sundqvist is the Sunday/features editor of The Register Citizen. She can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tracy Kennedy can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.