Del Mar Union School District sued to release documents

By Marsha Sutton

Senior Education Writer

Del Mar parent and resident Michael Robertson filed a lawsuit against the Del Mar Union School District Aug. 8, charging the district with withholding public documents Robertson requested May 10 under the California Public Records Act.

Also named in the suit is DMUSD school board president Comischell Rodriguez, for allegedly not disclosing personal emails related to the CPRA request that were sent to and from Rodriguez’s private email accounts.

“Because Respondent Rodriguez possesses, maintains and controls records responsive to Petitioner’s requests that are not maintained in files located in Respondent District’s offices, Respondent Rodriguez is an indispensible part to this litigation and must be included as a respondent in order for Petitioner to obtain complete relief,” reads the suit.

Robertson submitted a CPRA request on May 10 for access to files, documents and records relating to contact from March 1, 2011 between employees and representatives of the DMUSD and the California Teachers Association, a statewide teachers union of which the Del Mar California Teachers Association is a member.

This request was later expanded to include communication among and between Rodriguez, DMUSD superintendent Jim Peabody, the DMCTA and its representatives, the CTA, and the California School Boards Association (CSBA).

Robertson’s Public Records request was triggered by a CTA-organized “Week of Action” held May 9 to 13. A resolution to support the Week of Action was passed by the DMUSD school board at its April 27 meeting.

Robertson objected to Peabody’s recorded, automated telephone call to all Del Mar parents asking for their support of the week’s activities, and to flyers produced by the CTA that were distributed to parents by Del Mar schools’ PTAs. The flyers asked parents to call or email legislators to urge them to back more money for schools.

Saying this was “clearly calling for political action which is in violation of California law,” Robertson criticized the flyers and the school district’s actions that he claims inappropriately supported the union’s mission.

A May 27 letter from the DMUSD in response to Robertson’s May 10 CPRA request provided three primary reasons for not fully complying, citing court cases to support each point.

First, the letter stated, “The district objects to the requests as they are vague, overbroad and burdensome.”

“That is typical legal babble,” Robertson said. “They pay an outside firm to just object on every possible grounds.” He contends there is nothing vague about his requests. “It’s a shame that they’re spending money on attorneys to block perfectly legitimate requests.”

The district’s letter also stated, “In addition, the district objects to your requests insofar as they seek any information unrelated to the conduct of the public’s business.”

In a May 27 letter back to the district, Robertson wrote, “How DMUSD is run and who they communicate with, and this includes with outside agencies, is the public’s business. My request is completely within that scope.”

The district, in its letter, offered a final objection: “The district further objects to your requests insofar as they seek records exempt from disclosure because the public interest in not disclosing the information clearly outweighs the public interest served by disclosure.”

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