Sunday, December 4, 2022

Interview with Sue Edelman, intrepid reporter; and her so-far unsuccessful effort to get DOE to respond to FOILs, despite a 2018 win in court

In the latest Talk out of School podcast, Daniel Alicea interviews investigative reporter Susan Edelman about some of the many scandals she's covered and uncovered for the NY Post over more than twenty years concerning the NYC Board of Education/Department of Education, from the days of Mayor Giuliani till the present day.  It is well worth a listen.  She explains how the Special Commissioner of Investigation for Schools no longer does the sort of sweeping investigations that the former SCI Ed Stancik did prior to mayoral control.  This not altogether surprising since the SCI is also appointed by the Mayor.  They're far more quiet too; in fact, the SCI only put out two press releases in 2021, and none so far in 2022.)

Sue calls herself "semi-retired" and is a freelancer, though she is still making headlines for the NY Post on a regular basis.  The latest include her series of articles about how ADASA- NY, the Association of Dominican -American Supervisors and Administrators,  recruited teachers from the Dominican Republic on temporary visas, and then forced them to rent overpriced rooms in apartments owned by ADASA officials, including Emmanuel Polanco, the principal of the school where many of them were assigned to teach. 

One of the other issues Sue discusses on the podcast is the NY Post 2016 lawsuit against the DOE for failing to comply with their Freedom of Information Law requests in a timely fashion.  I wrote about this lawsuit at the time, along with my own terrible experiences of DOE stonewalling for months and sometimes years despite ordinary FOIL requests.  In 2017,  the Village Voice reported that it took the DOE an average of 103 days to respond to FOIL requests, a longer time than any of other city agency.

In 2018, the NY Post won its lawsuit, as reported by Sue at the time:

DOE not only turned over public records it had withheld for up to 20 months, but agreed to reform what The Post called a “pattern and practice” of endless delays and stonewalling.  After lengthy negotiations with Post lawyers, the DOE agreed to revise its FOIL rules to halt the indefinite postponements — and stick to reasonable deadlines. New guidelines were approved in November.

Here is the official stipulation by the Court, which also subsequently required the DOE to pay the Post's attorney fees. As I was quoted in the article, however,  “I’ll believe it when I see it.  I’m still waiting for documents that I requested two years ago.”

Sure enough, the DOE has continued its stonewalling, and in fact it has gotten worse.  As Sue revealed, ever since she reported on the fact that the Chancellor had promoted Mayor Adams' romantic partner to a higher position with a 23% salary boost to $221,597 a year,  the DOE has refused to answer any of her questions at all, including routine queries.  

The only change to the DOE's FOIL practices  since the court decision is that the boilerplate letter they send to those FOILing information is longer, and cites a number of reasons that the response has been and will be further delayed.  Here is their standard response:

This letter concerns the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request referenced above. Pursuant to Section VI.C of DOE Chancellor’s Regulation D-110 (CR D-110), please be advised that additional time is needed to respond to the remainder of your request.

Factors to be considered determining whether there exist circumstances necessitating more time to respond to a request may include, but are not limited to, “[1] the volume of a request, [2] the ease or difficulty in locating, retrieving or generating records, [3] the complexity of the request, [4] the need to review records to determine the extent to which they must be disclosed, and [5] the number of requests received by the agency.

And then they add which factors are involved, usually a combination of 1, 2, 4 and 5.  The only other change from their previous behavior is that rather sending a letter each  month, now the DOE waits between three to six months to send these letters, and sometimes forgets to send any at all. 

An example:  In October 2020, I FOILed for DOE contracts with tech companies that had access to personal student data.  They responded a year later that if I narrowed my request to the privacy portions of those contracts, I could get the information sooner.  (According to state law, the privacy sections of contracts, called the Parent Bill of Rights,  are supposed to posted on the DOE website, yet only a partial list is included here, under the ambiguous title, "Supplemental Information for Parents About DOE Agreements With Outside Entities.")

In Oct. 2021, I agreed to limit my request to the privacy portions of those contracts, over a year ago, but am still waiting. 

This morning, I posted a twitter poll, asking if  people think the NY Post should reopen its lawsuit vs the DOE.   Please respond to the poll here.

No comments: