Records search explained |

Records search explained

We write to assure you, and your readers, that our requested access to certain Aspen school board records is not, as has been suggested, an effort to pry into private matters involving students or teachers or an attempt to burden the school system. We also want to make clear what we are doing and why.First: We have not requested any information regarding teachers or individual students, or even the names of any teachers or students. Documents with that information are not relevant to our inquiry. Teachers, parents and students who have been unnecessarily alarmed by the Aspen school board’s contrary assertions should rest assured: we have not sought any information whatever about teachers, parents or students.Second: What we have asked to review are only those documents which every citizen is entitled to review as a matter of law: the Colorado Open Records Act. That law expressly applies to school districts throughout Colorado. That law does have a number of provisions that could be burdensome, but the school board’s suggestions that we are using it to burden them to the max is just not true. Under the law the board is required to make public records available to any requester within three working days. When the board said it couldn’t do that, we gave them more time. Under the law, we are entitled to be provided copies of everything available. With minor exceptions, we have not asked the board to make copies for us; instead, we ourselves have made all copies or have arranged for their copying, so as to take up as little board time and resources as possible. Under the law, the board is required to make available written correspondence and e-mails. However, the board has largely refused to do that, and those few pieces of written correspondence and e-mails that have been produced have been so culled and redacted that in some egregious instances, all of the actual text of such documents has simply been whited out. Despite this illegal behavior – which is actually a criminal offense under the Open Records Act – we continue to try to resolve these issues instead of taking them right to court. If we have to, we will, but we are interested in the information, not confrontation. And we have made that clear.Third: The reason we seek the information is our belief that it will help us and other parents to assess the performance of Superintendent Farrell. We do believe there are many reasons for concern: certainly we have been told that by many fellow parents, teachers and employees. We are engaged in a serious, lawful effort to separate fact from rumor.Some of these rumors have already come out, and have been found factual – such as Mr. Farrell’s self-authorized scholarship. Others have not.For example, we have been told that Mr. Farrell simply disappears, without explanation and without leaving word as to where he may be found, often and for extended periods of time. Such behavior, if true, should be of concern at the least, since each and every one of his employment contracts – including the one signed fewer than 90 days ago – specifically provides that it is “intended by the parties to be a full-time contract and the Superintendent shall devote his attention to the functions of Superintendent at all times during the term of this contract.” There are records that should establish whether our children have a superintendent who is AWOL, and what the board knows about his absences and does to enforce the contract. We have asked for the district superintendent’s attendance record. The school board has repeatedly refused to produce it. Under the Colorado Open Records Act, such attendance records are to be public and available for inspection. Moreover, that statute is specifically incorporated into the district superintendent’s contract. Yet the school board unlawfully continues to refuse to produce his attendance records. Why? Are they ashamed by what the records show?There are other financial, personnel and policy issues that we have been told about and which we are trying to sort out. These go to the heart of the question about school leadership, both in the office of the superintendent and at the board. And to the issue of candor about the future of our children.Another example may be worth mentioning. Despite the school board’s recent statement to you of their “100 percent” support for Mr. Farrell, there is evidence from the board itself that would suggest the contrary. Among the documents produced to us were recent evaluations of Mr. Farrell’s performance by members of the school board. In them, members noted issues that we think most parents would find of concern. These include expressions of concern with:1. The “overall dishonesty” of his teacher evaluations.2. His repeated refusal to submit periodic reports to the school board.3. Reports from him characterized as “disjointed.”4. A pattern of routinely ignoring parent committee recommendations.5. Communications with parents and the community characterized as “inadequate”. These are a few of the comments, which we have now seen, in the partial production of documents. In light of these comments, 100 percent seems like grade inflation to us, or a lack of candor. To us, these seem to be reasons why a dispassionate, independent member of the school board might be far less than 100 percent satisfied with Mr. Farrell’s job performance.It also seems to us that the school board is spending more time and resources complaining about us than is appropriate – and protecting Mr. Farrell from the public scrutiny required by both Colorado law and his own employment contract.The Colorado Open Records Act was passed to assure open government and provide the basis for informed citizens to exercise their rights. We are trying to do that responsibly. The Aspen school board members and district administrators are required to comply with that law, whether they like it or not. Rather than complain about the law, and our use of it, rather than hiring lawyers to hide the facts, rather than blaming us, or trying to create misplaced fear, rather than trying to cut off dialogue with preemptive declarations of 100 percent support, the school board would better serve those who elect them by complying with the law, and thus demonstrating anew that their commitment is not to an individual – no matter what the facts – but to candor in informing parents and serving the interests of the students – our children.Carrie Morgridge & Laurie MichaelsAspen

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