Apparently, all Tennessee school systems are rejecting a request from a Christian conservative legal advocacy organization – as suggested by by Tennessee School Boards Association in a letter – for records on teaching about Islam in public schools.
The rejections are legally based on a provision of Tennessee’s Open Records Act that requires any request for public records to come from a Tennessee citizen. The Washington-based American Center for Law & Justice is not a Tennessee citizen, ergo, there’s a valid legal technicality that arguably allows the request to be ignored.
Other out-of-state folks have easily gotten around this provision by simply having a Tennessean re-file the request and, presumably, the ACLJ – which has ample friends within the state – will eventually do the same.
Meanwhile, here’s an excerpt from a News Sentinel story updating developments.
“State law says, and now the open records counsel has indeed opined, that they are not a qualified citizen of the state of Tennessee who would have access to the records,” Cagle said.
“Our firm has issued a total of about 80 denials on behalf of the school systems. I don’t know of a school system in the state that has said ‘we will produce records’ because of the requirements of law.”
Some of the school districts that have denied the request include Metro Nashville, Rutherford, Williamson, Wilson, Loudon, Blount, Grainger and Roane counties. The Knox County Law Department, which is handling Knox County Schools’ records request, has also denied it.
…Calls to the American Center for Law & Justice were not immediately returned, but CeCe Heil, the organization’s executive counsel, told The Tennessean newspaper this week the group will continue its efforts to obtain the requested records.
“We deal with government entities regularly and anticipate the necessity of engaging in negotiations pertaining to the actual documentation received,” Heil told them in an email. “Our open records requests are valid and signed by an attorney who is a citizen of Tennessee.”
Deborah Fisher, executive director for the Tennessee Coalition of Open Government, said she is aware of other cases in which requests have been denied because the requester lived in another state.
She said if a person can prove he or she is a Tennessee resident, the records should be turned over and by doing so that could cut down on costs and time in the long run for agencies and show transparency.
“I’m not advocating for this public record, but the person could just refile as a Tennessee resident,” she said. “The law doesn’t distinguish the purpose for getting the records; it just says a Tennessee resident.”
Note: A previous posts HERE.