Dispatch Printing Company Sues Columbus Schools Over Attendance Scandal Meetings

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The Columbus Dispatch filed a lawsuit on Monday to pry open the doors of Columbus City Schools’ private meetings.

Reporters have attended Columbus City School Board of Education meetings to cover the recent scandal about attendance records, but the board of education has shut reporters out of the meetings.

“The public has an interest in seeing what these school board members have to say about this,” Dispatch attorney Marion Little said.

In past months, stories have exposed the district for manipulating its own attendance data to do better on state scorecards.

According to the lawsuit, the district has discussed the issue with its attorney during closed-door meetings.

The district sent a statement to 10 Investigates Tuesday saying that the closed-door meetings (called executive sessions) were OK, because they were informational meetings and nothing was actually decided.

In its statement, the district said, in part, “When the time comes that board takes any official action, it will be done at a public meeting. In the meantime, it is important that we have the same access to privileged communications with the District's lawyers that any other person or company would have.”

The district also said that the law allows the board to talk to its attorney in private.

Little said that argument is a misapplication of the law decided by two different appellate courts.

“I think they’ve taken that position, perhaps out of desperation because they did not have an exception otherwise to rely on, and they’ve tried to cobble together an argument,” Little said.

Open Government Attorney Mark Weaver said that the district is not only wrong about the law, but the public deserves to know what is happening at the meetings.

“This growing scandal of altering attendance data could lead to criminal charges down the road,” Weaver said.

If Columbus City Schools loses the lawsuit, it could be forced to pay the attorney fees for both sides.

One attorney estimates that could run into the six-figure territory.

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