The Rhode Island ACLU has today taken legal action against the Pawtucket and Little Compton school districts for violating the state’s open records law. The lawsuit, filed in Superior Court by ACLU volunteer attorney Karen Davidson, charges that district officials in each of these districts unlawfully failed to respond to two requests from the ACLU for public documents.

In November 2011, the ACLU filed two formal Access to Public Records Act (APRA) requests with every school district in the state. One request sought documents relating to the use of internet filtering on school computers. The ACLU is examining the different policies and procedures in place in school districts for censoring Internet content on the computers used by students during the school day. A second request, filed simultaneously, sought information from school districts regarding their use of school resource officers, including any policies setting guidelines and standards for the role and responsibilities of SROs.

Neither Pawtucket nor Little Compton responded to either request. On January 17, the Affiliate sent follow-up letters to both school districts requesting the documents. Again, the ACLU received no response, prompting today’s filings. The lawsuits contend that the districts’ failure to respond or provide the records constitutes a clear violation of APRA. Both suits seek a court order requiring the districts to turn over the requested documents, imposition of a fine for violating the law, and an award of attorneys’ fees.

ACLU volunteer attorney Davidson said today: “There is no excuse for a public agency to ignore requests for public documents as these two school districts have done. If a legal organization like the ACLU is treated this way, one can only imagine how regular citizens are treated in seeking access to public records.” RI ACLU executive director Steven Brown added: “The open records law is too critical a safeguard of public oversight to be treated so cavalierly. We are hopeful that the court will make clear to these school districts that such clear violations of the public’s right to know will not be tolerated.”

The ACLU received responses from all other school districts, and is currently reviewing the materials that have been received.