Missouri newspaper settles lawsuit with school district after six-month battle for public information



UPDATE 6/15: The Springfield News-Leader settled a suit with the Republic School District on Thursday, ending a dispute over information about another lawsuit, settled in November, involving a student and her family who claimed the middle school did not protect the girl from sexual harassment and rape during school hours.

According to the News-Leader, documents reveal the district paid $185,000 -- $122,315 to the girl and her family, and the remaining money toward attorney fees.

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A southwest Missouri newspaper and the Republic School District are working to settle a public records lawsuit and reveal the details of a November settlement over student sexual abuse allegations, the newspaper’s attorney said Wednesday.

The Springfield News-Leader filed a public records lawsuit June 4 for information regarding the district’s settlement with the student, particularly the amount the district paid and the minutes from any meeting where the settlement was discussed.

The News-Leader’s suit argued the district is required to release the information under the Missouri Sunshine Law.

“We believe that the applicable Sunshine Law statute requires disclosures of the information for obvious reasons – the taxpayers have a right to know how the school is conducting its business,” attorney Bryan Wade told The News-Leader.

Wade confirmed the district had responded to the suit, and the two entities are negotiating an agreement. The district must first receive the OK from a federal judge to release the information, he said. The district has said it will “work toward obtaining the information.”

But nothing is final yet, said News-Leader executive editor David Stoeffler.

“We were in negotiation before we filed the suit, but it seemed to not be going anywhere,” he said. “Those negotiations have continued [since the suit] … I’m optimistic.”

According to The News-Leader, a student and her family filed a lawsuit against the district in July 2011 claiming the middle school didn’t protect her after she reported multiple incidents of harassment, assault and rape by a classmate over a two-year period.

The district settled with the family in November, but a federal judge sealed the settlement agreement, Stoeffler said.

The district refused to release any further information about the case, despite multiple attempts by the newspaper and its attorney. The reporter filed an official letter request in December 2011, and Wade said he sent a follow-up request in April.

Both requests were denied by the district, which said the judge’s order to seal the information overrides the state law, making the information unavailable to the newspaper, Stoeffler said.

 

Tagged: courts, FOI, public records