Newspaper appeals charter school refusal to produce records

A Mississippi newspaper is appealing a Jackson charter school's denial of a public records request concerning the treatment of a special-education student.

Posted: Jun 29, 2018 9:38 AM

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A Mississippi newspaper is appealing a Jackson charter school's denial of a public records request concerning the treatment of a special-education student.

The Clarion Ledger reported that it filed an appeal Monday to the state Ethics Commission after Reimagine Prep denied a request for emails pertaining to allegations that a then-teacher dragged the student by his collar and pushed him up against a wall in August 2016.

Each charter school in Mississippi is considered to be its own public school district. The schools get state and local tax money, but are operated by private nonprofit groups.

Reimagine Prep, a middle school that is part of the Tennessee-based RePublic Schools network, says only documents held by its governing board are covered by Mississippi's public records law.

"If e-mails were sent to or from our public body — our governing board of directors — that related to your records request, RePublic would produce them," wrote RePublic Network Operations Director. "Because RePublic's board does not possess such materials, we have nothing to provide."

In a 2015 decision involving the Rankin County school district, the state Ethics Commission stated that any electronic records produced by a teacher "concerning any business, transaction, work, duty or function of the school district are, without doubt, public records."

Any commission ruling could set a precedent on whether charter school records are also public.

Lawanda Barnes, the mother of the boy, sued the school in state court last November, accusing school officials of failing to keep her son safe.

The complaint says the incident occurred in the Reimagine Prep gym where Barnes' son was lying down on the floor. The lawsuit states that the child was experiencing a migraine when an employee "grabbed him by his shirt collar and proceeded to drag him across the floor all the way from the gym to the cafeteria, where she slung him up against a wall."

In a response, lawyers for the school said a teacher disciplined the student "in good faith" by "removing him from the school gym and placing him into the cafeteria."

Barnes and her lawyer declined to comment.

Republic operates two charter schools in Jackson, plans to open a third in the fall, and is seeking approval to open a fourth.

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