The Ontario School Board is still holding back key documents regarding an investigation into complaints by school district officials. (The Enterprise/FILE).
ONTARIO – The Ontario School Board for the first time made public the recent complaints filed against school board members that resulted in censures and an expected public apology, releasing the documents because of a lawsuit by the Enterprise.
The board also released letters written earlier this year by then-Board Chair Renae Corn summarizing the findings of two investigations of its own members.
The board for months had insisted the public could not see the complaints filed by Nikki Albisu, Ontario School District superintendent; Jodi Elizondo, Ontario High School principal; and Lisa Longoria, Ontario Middle School principal. The board also had refused to disclose letters to Albisu and Longoria.
The board released the records to settle part of a lawsuit filed in Malheur County Circuit Court by the Enterprise in June that asserted the documents were not properly kept confidential. The board decided in late September to disclose the records, but didn’t release them for another month.
The board, however, continues to insist that reports of investigations into the complaints against its members shouldn’t be public. In court filings, the board maintains that the documents are protected by the attorney-client privilege. No Oregon law prohibits their disclosure.
Tom Greco, school board chair, declined to comment and referred questions about the disclosure decision to Taryn Smith, the district’s public relations coordinator, and Wyatt Baum, the district’s attorney. They didn’t respond.
“The school board twice censured its members over conduct that was complained about but provided the community precious little information about what happened,” said Enterprise Publisher Les Zaitz. “The board tried to take the position that complaints against its own members and resulting investigative findings just shouldn’t be shared with the community. The newspaper thought otherwise, and that’s why we sued.”
The newspaper has been represented by Ellen Osoinach, who is with the Local Legal Initiative of the national Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
“The Ontario School Board claimed this information was off limits, but Oregon public records law says differently. We’ll continue pressing for the release of the investigative findings,” Osoinach said.
The Enterprise requested the complaints on April 8, 2021. The school board initially said they were exempt as internal communications. On April 26, the newspaper requested communications between the board and Albisu about the complaint, a request on the grounds that releasing the material would invade personal privacy and that they were legal documents protected by the attorney-client privilege.
On June 7, the Enterprise requested the investigation reports from the Albisu and Longoria cases. The school board turned down the request, again saying the records were protected by the attorney-client privilege.
The newspaper sued the school board on June 23, seeking a judge’s order that the records should be released.
Before a judge could take up the matter, the school board released the complaints and the letters. A trial on the investigative reports is scheduled for next April in Vale.
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