ABC27 filed several right-to-know requests with the Harrisburg School District in an attempt to gather more information about an internal grading investigation and recent staffing changes, but getting that information is being delayed.
Pennsylvania’s Open Records Law requires agencies to respond within five days. Agencies can grant a request, deny it, or request a 30-day extension. The Harrisburg School District has failed to respond to several of ABC27’s right-to-know requests in the time period allowed under the law.
On August 14, ABC27 filed a right to know request for “all documents reflecting the outcome of the recent investigation into the district’s grading policy and procedures.” The district’s open records officer failed to respond within the five days.
ABC27 appealed to the Office of Open Records. The district then sent an email saying the investigation relating to grading practices has not concluded and therefore the records do not exist. It took a month for this process to take place.
The district failed to respond within five days to two other requests filed by ABC27 in August and also failed to respond to two requests filed in July after the district requested a 30-day extension.
“It is very troubling to me, ” said Jayne Buchwach.
Buchwach is a member of the CATCH, Concerned About the Children of Harrisburg, which has also filed several right-to-know requests with the Harrisburg School District.
“Some have gotten responses right away, some have not,” said Buchwach
The law allows you to appeal to the Office of Open Records, which can then force the agency to hand over the information, but that adds time to the process.
“The delay tactics to me is in hopes that you’ll forget about it or you will get so frustrated,” said Buchwach. “The lack of transparency is causing more and more people to [think] what’s going on.”
The district’s public relations coordinator, Kirsten Keys, says there is only one part-time employee who handles right-to-know requests, and she has processed 48 requests so far this year.
“The district regularly responds to requests within the time periods allowed under the law, and carefully reviews each request to ensure compliance with its obligations, consistent with the exceptions set forth in the law,” said Keys.
When agencies do not respond within the time limits, it can lead to appeals and potential lawsuits.