YUKON — Attorneys for Yukon Public Schools recently told a local woman she will have to pay $65,000 to fulfill an open records request that would yield more than a quarter million pages of documents.
District Superintendent Bill Denton said the latest request from Debbie Wright, whose daughter once attended Yukon schools, is so big it would take “several months” to complete and would cripple his district.
The April 15 open records request, one of dozens made by Wright in recent months, demands copies of emails between two groups of district employees. Included in that group are Denton and other high-ranking district officials.
Wright said she believes the district is asking her to pay $65,000 “to make me stop doing open records requests.” She said the April 15 request is related to a bullying lawsuit she filed against the district in November.
“With the records I've requested from them, I've found things that are very informative to me,” Wright said. “That keeps me plugging along. If every time I do one I find stuff that shows the school is doing wrong, it keeps me asking more questions.”
Wright and another parent of a Yukon student are suing the school district in Canadian County District Court.
The suit alleges Wright's daughter and another girl, now seniors in high school, were harassed and bullied by fellow students and former vocational agriculture instructors after an investigation into Yukon's FFA program.
The two girls were targeted because Wright, her husband and the other parent discovered a former agriculture instructor was “skimming” on livestock purchases, the suit alleges.
An investigative audit into the district's FFA program uncovered numerous instances of possible misconduct and confirmed that some instructors were charging some parents more than they paid for livestock, a practice known as “skimming.”
Wright's daughter has since left Yukon schools and is finishing her senior in another part of the state. The other parent's daughter still is enrolled at the high school.
After filing dozens of open records requests, Wright has spent countless hours doing research and poring over documents. She's also spent a considerable amount of money in the process.
“It's in the thousands ... easy,” Wright said. “And I'll pay this one if I have to. By them doing this, it makes it seem as though they have something to hide.”
‘Abuse the system'
Dawn Danker-Pearce, a spokeswoman for Yukon Public Schools, said in a prepared statement that the district is demanding a $65,000 deposit because it “would need to allocate full-time personnel ... to retrieve the information and full-time administrative and legal staff to review the information for confidential information which must be redacted.”
Danker-Pearce said Wright has filed “more than 45 records requests with the school district since late 2011.”
The latest one, she said, is “over 25 GB of data and will exceed 250,000 pages, assuming one page per email.”
“When the district designates employees for open records' requests, the employees are unable to perform their regularly assigned duties for the district,” Danker-Pearce said. “It disrupts the normal flow of support services to our students, teachers, board, parents, staff and community.”
In the past, Denton has been critical of Wright's open records request, saying on more than one occasion that Wright is “bullying” the district with numerous information requests.
In her prepared statement, Danker-Pearce echoed the sentiments expressed by Denton in the past. She also noted that Yukon Public Schools has “responded to every single open records request” made by Wright.
“The impact of nearly 50 open records requests from one individual is enormous ... we've worked tremendously hard in recent months to become a more accountable and transparent district,” Danker-Pearce said.
“However, it's challenging to perform our daily essential functions when one individual is allowed to abuse the system.”
Previous records issues
The Wrights already have won an open records lawsuit against Yukon Public Schools.
In October, a Canadian County district judge ordered the school district to pay $18,203 in attorneys' fees and other costs after the district refused to turn over an investigative report that showed serious problems within Yukon's vocational agricultural program.
Denton said the report was withheld on the advice of the district's legal counsel and expressed relief when the judge ordered the report to be made public. The Wrights had been seeking the report for roughly six months.
“It's a relief, I know, for our board, and myself, to be able to release this,” Denton said at the time. “I wish more people could understand why we weren't able to do that and go against the advice of our legal counsel.”
When the district designates employees for open records' requests, the employees are unable to perform their regularly assigned duties for the district,” Danker-Pearce said. “It disrupts the normal flow of support services to our students, teachers, board, parents, staff and community.”
Spokeswoman for Yukon Public Schools