Monday, October 28, 2013

Essential decisions...

The story so far is that the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) is refusing to release a University of Chicago survey of school performance around the state.

My FOIA request to them earlier this month was declined on the grounds that the reports I requested were "preliminary" under section 7(1) of FOIA. I wrote to the Attorney General requesting a Request for Review of this decision. The point I raised was that one cannot on the one hand argue that completed analyses, produced by leading education researchers at one of the nation's top universities are "preliminary", while at the same time argue that the disaggregated raw data (that ISBE has said it will release) is a "final" report. Something that is preliminary is an action or event that precedes something full or more important.

I'm looking forward to hearing how the ISBE justifies its decision to withhold the 5 Essentials report from public release. It has seven days to do this, according to the letter I have just received from the office of the Attorney General today which rules that "further inquiry is warranted".

Excepts from the letter:

"We have determined that further inquiry is warranted in this matter. Please provide this office with a detailed explanation of the ISBE's legal and factual basis for asserting the section 7(1) exemption to deny Ms Loder's October 9, 2013 FOIA request, together with an un-redacted copy of the withheld records. In your response, please confirm whether ISBE has provided parts of the requested records to Ms Loder as indicated in Ms Loder's Request for Review. If so, the ISBE's response should also include a detailed legal and factual explanation of its basis for withholding the analysis and/or interpretation portions of the requested survey reports. 

As required under FOIA, please provide this information to our office within seven (7) business days after receipt of this letter (5 ILCS 140/9.5(c) (West 2012). In the context of a Request for Review, the issue is whether the public body has proved by clear and convincing evidence [their emphasis] that its reasons for denying information or records were proper".