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James L. White/Staff

Bill Ray Lewis (standing) addresses the Valley Springs School Board regarding a Freedom of Information Act request during a board meeting Wednesday night.

VALLEY SPRINGS — The Valley Springs School Board took no action Wednesday night on a request to force the superintendent to release information about employee absences under the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act.

Bill Ray Lewis submitted an FOIA request to Superintendent Judy Green asking for the number of days, sick leave days, professional leave days and personal business leave days missed by all staff members, by name, for the 2017-2018, 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 school years. The request was dated Nov. 14, 2019.

Green responded to Lewis in another letter dated Nov. 20. She said she had notified staff members of the request and gave them time to seek an attorney general’s opinion on the matter before releasing their names and records.

Lewis wrote back to Green on Nov. 25, stating the public had a right to know when publicly funded employees were or weren’t at work. He referred Green to a 2007 opinion from then-Attorney General Dustin McDaniel.

That opinion basically stated that the FOIA has generally been interpreted to say that personnel records are disclosable to the public “except to the extent that their disclosure would constitute a ‘clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.’”

Green responded to Lewis’ request with attendance records for district staff, but did not identify any of them by name. District lawyer Jay Bequette wrote in a letter to Lewis that it was his opinion that identifying employees by name would be an invasion of privacy, and that no specific court cases were cited that would require such action from the district.

Lewis’ request was placed on the agenda for Wednesday night’s meeting and he addressed the board.

“My request is that you direct the superintendent to honor, since she won’t do it, that she honor an FOIA request,” Lewis told the board. “It’s a very simple FOIA request.”

Lewis said the information is something that would be available to any citizen, as would the salaries of school employees. He asked that board members take the matter very seriously, adding that he thought Bequette’s opinion on the matter was wrong as some other advice he had given the board in the past.

“I will say this,” Lewis said. “If this is not forthcoming, there will be a lawsuit against your superintendent for the production of this document. That’s not a threat. It’s just a statement of fact.”

After Lewis had spoken, the board moved on with other business. When board members were retiring to executive session, board vice president Thanh Ketchum, serving as president in Chris Graddy’s absence, was asked if the board would discuss Lewis’ request in executive session and make any decision afterward.

“We won’t take it up today,” Ketchum said.

Green pointed out the board’s policy on communication with patrons, which reads:

“Patrons whose written request to be placed on the meeting’s agenda has been accepted shall have no more than 30 minutes to present to the Board unless specifically granted additional time by a motion approved by a majority of the Board. The speaker shall limit his/her comments to the approved topic/issue or forfeit his/her right to address the Board. The members of the Board will listen to the patron’s presentation, but shall not respond to the presenter during the meeting in which the presentation is made. The Board may choose to discuss the issue presented at a later meeting, but is under no obligation to do so.”

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