After an unnecessary two and a half years in court, we finally helped Parents United for Public Education get a copy of the once-secret list of recommended Philly school closings. You can see that list here.
Parents United requested the list of proposed school closures and the factors used to determine that list under Pennsylvania’s Right to Know law. The list was prepared by the Boston Consulting Group with funding from the William Penn Foundation. The district partially denied the request, refusing to release the information noting such records as internal documents that fell under the law’s predecisional exemption.
We appealed this decision to the Office of Open Records and received a favorable determination granting our request. The district failed to show that the documents remained internal, as must be proven under the Right to Know Law to establish the exception needed to keep the documents from being released. In fact, it appeared that the district shared the requested document with the William Penn Foundation, an outside entity. The district has not affirmatively denied that the documents were shared externally. Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court and the Office of Open Records have routinely ruled that agencies cannot withhold documents on this basis if they have been shared outside of the originating agency.
The District appealed this decision to the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. Both the District and the Law Center filed briefs and oral arguments were conducted on March 18, 2013. Staff attorney Ben Geffen presented the oral arguments on behalf of Ms. Gym, during which he noted that the school district failed to prove that the documents remained internal and that the William Penn Foundation, with which the information were shared, does not constitute one of the acceptable internal entities identified in the Right to Know statute.