Q&A: Police school investigation


From South Bend Tribune:

Q: My question regards an incident where school employees were put on administrative leave without pay after a 6-year-old girl wandered away from a South Bend school for two hours unnoticed. We hear the school district’s investigation (and police investigation, since the school resource officer conducted it) was completed and a copy will be available for board members prior to a certain executive session.

Does that mean that it is a public record that I should be able to inspect as well?

A: Is it a public record? Yes.

Can you inspect and copy it? Not as easy to answer.

The presumption is that public records are available for inspection and copying. The burden is on the school district to point to a statutory basis to keep the record confidential.

If they are presenting the report to the board at the public meeting, it wouldn’t appear that they are claiming it’s a personnel matter (such as receiving information about alleged misconduct) eligible for an executive session.

If the report is being previewed as the topic of the executive session, you have to see what reason is given for the executive session.

If they think a crime was committed, they might try to claim it’s an investigatory record. But if it’s more a procedural or policy issue (non-criminal activity) then the investigatory records exception wouldn’t apply, and they can’t claim that the report should be confidential.

If the executive session is to receive information about alleged misconduct, then you’ll have to wait to see if they take a disciplinary action.

Make the request for the record and put the ball in the school district’s court as to whether they want to claim it’s confidential. If they do, determine the legal basis they are claiming. I can let you know whether they have a legitimate argument or whether you might challenge them on it.

Contact Steve Key, HSPA executive director and general counsel, with media law questions at skey@hspa.com or (317) 624-4427.