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Marlboro Schools deny Freedom of Information request

September 18th, 2013

On July 22 the Southern Ulster Times submitted a request to the Marlboro School District, for a series of documents pursuant to provisions of the Freedom of Information Act [FOIA]. To date the district has missed two deadlines.

The SUT requested a copy of the “Bernstein Report;” an investigation that was done by Ken Bernstein after allegations surfaced against Varsity Football Coach Richard Ward. It also became clear that Bernstein also investigated additional allegations that were made against Superintendent Ray Castellani.

The district has denied this request, citing that it would be an “unwarranted invasion of personal privacy under Public Officers Law chapter 87(2)(b)” The district also cited FOIL advisory opinion 11271 to further back its denial.

While there is some justification to their claim, the district did release a request for a letter from Michael Bakatsias, Assistant Superintendent for Personnel and Technology, to Coach Ward, dated Feb. 25, 2013, an action that appears inconsistent with their previous reasoning of protecting personal privacy. Robert Freeman, Executive Director of the Committee on Open Government, concurred and indicated the release of this letter by the district is inconsistent with their reasons for denying the release of the Bernstein Report.

Within this released letter, Bakatsias informs Ward “that allegations of harassment have been brought against you.” Ward is informed of school district policy #3420 on Anti-Harassment in the School District.

Bakatsias then continues: “While this investigation is ongoing, it is important for the protection of all parties to keep the proceedings of this investigation as confidential as possible.” Ward is “directed” at that time to “temporarily cease all activities regarding the Varsity Football coaching assignment, to include communication to players and their families during the investigation through Friday, March 8, 2013, which includes any meetings, weight lifting or other activity.”

The district also released a Fingerprint Clearance for Employment, showing that Ward filed his fingerprints with the NYS Education Department “and has been cleared for employment in your school.”

In the July 22 FOIA, the SUT requested “copies of all legal bills the district has received from any attorney or investigative firm concerning Coach Ward or Superintendent Ray Castellani.”

The district initially indicated in writing that they were working to fulfill the request and would indicate by August 26 what they would release or what they would deny.

In another response, dated September 12, 2013, the district stated that the request for the financials was “too broad” and requested “clarification as the specific time frame or subject matter for which the legal bills pertain.” The SUT submitted additional clarification, this time not only requesting a breakdown of the fees charged by Bernstein and a second investigator, Joseph Wooley, but also copies of their contracts that tell the parameters of what each of them were charged to investigate.

The district indicated that they will either grant or deny this request by October 11, 2013, nearly 3 months after the initial July 22 FOIA request.

By Mark Reynolds

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