Illinois AG will review Wilmette schools' refusal to release "School Climate Survey" results
Wilmette Public Schools District 39 has been directed by the Illinois Attorney General's Office to turn over a portion of records being sought by the North Cook News via a Freedom of Information Act request, according to a letter from the Attorney General to the school district.
"We have determined that further action is warranted," said the letter to the school district from the office of Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan dated Nov. 7.
The Attorney General directed the school district provide to that office "for our confidential review" a sample of the records being sought by the North Cook News.
Wilmette Schools has seven days to comply, according to the letter.
The letter is signed by the Attorney General's Office's Deputy of Public Access Counselor Neil P. Olson.
The school district has been accused of glossing over the bullying of conservative students in the report of its 2016-17 CRC School Climate Survey for parents, students and teachers.
In August, the North Cook News issued a FOIA request for the results of the survey. The North Cook News sought response summary charts, lists of answer choices with corresponding percentages and response numbers, lists of answer choices and detail content of all specified questions that were not made available to the public.
The school district responded to the request saying there were no summary charts or lists of answer choice but denied the North Cook News' request for detailed comments based on a FOIA exception. In late October, the North Cook News appealed and asked for review by the state's Attorney General's office.
The Illinois Freedom of Information Act was written to provide transparent access to documents and records from public bodies. The AG's office lists several types of information exempt from FOIA, including private and personal information, certain police records that are part of an ongoing matter, Information whose disclosure threatens someone's safety, business trade secrets and proposals, bids for contract ahead of a final decision and requests that are "unduly burdensome."
FOIA also provides an exception for "preliminary drafts or notes in which opinions are expressed or policies are formulated, unless the record is publicly cited and identified by the head of the public body." District 39 cited this exemption when denying the North Cook News request.
North Cook News contends the district wrongfully withheld the information because the survey comments are a part of public discussion and are referenced and paraphrased in a final public report.
The 14-page report recommended that District 39 assess "effectiveness of all areas where social-emotional learning is currently taught" and research other programs that will support students in social-emotional learning.
"In addition, the district should assess whether any of its current classroom practices are having the unintended effect of making children feel excluded and promote more sensitive alternatives instead," the report said. "The responses to these survey questions are a useful starting point for the district in its identification process of areas of difference to be respected and celebrated by all of its stakeholders, including students, parents, and teachers. Indeed, the hope is that by doing so, District 39 can create an environment where all of its students feel physically and emotionally safe and can reach their fullest potential in harmony with the District’s mission statement."
While the report provides findings based on the results of the 2016-17 CRC School Climate Survey, the report does not provide those results.