SDA REFUSES TO RELEASE REPORTS ON HEALTH AND SAFETY CONDITIONS IN URBAN SCHOOL BUILDINGS
ACLU-NJ Files Suit
November 18, 2013
The NJ Schools Development Authority (SDA) has denied an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request filed by Education Law Center to obtain the agency’s reports on the health and safety conditions in four schools badly in need of repair: Camden High School, Thomas G. Connors Elementary School in Hoboken, Cleveland Elementary School in Orange, and Orange High School.
All four schools were identified by the SDA as having serious health, safety and other structural defects. To date, the SDA has not started any repair work on the schools, despite having ample funding available for this purpose.
In October, the SDA denied the OPRA request, refusing to make these assessment reports public. The SDA claims that reports had not been “finalized” and do not have to be made public because they are covered by the “deliberative process privilege.”
An earlier OPRA request submitted by ELC concerning Trenton Central High School produced that school’s facilities condition report, including information about serious health and safety defects and asbestos in the building. Last month, the Trenton School District sued the SDA to force the agency to repair severe problems in the building.
“These reports document the health and safety conditions in schools that hundreds of students, staff, parents and community members use every day,” said Elizabeth Athos, ELC Senior Attorney. “The SDA is legally responsible to repair these schools. It is shocking that this agency would withhold vital information from parents that impacts the safety and well-being of their children.”
After the request was denied, ELC turned to the ACLU of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ), which has a long history of enforcing OPRA in the courts. The ACLU-NJ recently filed a complaint in Superior Court on behalf of ELC, challenging the SDA’s decision not to release the facilities condition reports.
“We are determined to hold the SDA accountable to the students, parents and communities they are legally obligated to serve,” Ms. Athos said. “Once we obtain this information, we will work closely with students, parents and advocates to ensure that the SDA does all the repairs necessary to ensure these schools are safe and healthy places for children to learn.”
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