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Clark County School District violated public records law, lawsuit claims

Updated October 16, 2018 - 7:28 pm

The Clark County School District is facing another public records lawsuit over its refusal to release emails sought as part of an investigation into a teacher’s allegation that she was improperly fired after reporting possible testing irregularities.

The lawsuit filed in District Court Monday by the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a libertarian think tank, stems from a July records request for all emails sent in 2013 between Employee-Management Relations employees and Katrina Nicosia, a director in the Student Services Division.

The district refused to provide the records, the lawsuit claims, stating that the emails were confidential personnel records and contained identifiable student information.

“In this particular case, CCSD is just really exploiting the fact that they face no penalty (for violating the state’s public record law),” said Robert Fellner, policy director for the institute. “I would argue that their outside counsel, which receives millions of dollars a year from them, are incentivized to violate the law — and that’s the problem.”

The request is part of an investigation by the institute into allegations involving abuse of special education students and retaliation against whistleblowers.

The institute requested the emails to investigate whether Nicosia was pressured by Employee-Management Relations leaders to terminate Kim Bender, a former teacher who claimed she was fired for reporting testing discrepancies for a special education student.

“The information contained in the records sought by petitioner may inform and influence the public regarding whether CCSD is operating ethically, lawfully, and in the best interest of the students in its care, as well as the citizens of Clark County,” the complaint states.

The lawsuit also alleges that the district did not properly respond to the request, failing to send certain responses within the five business days as outlined by state law and failing to provide a date and time the records would be provided.

“CCSD has established a pattern and practice of failing and/or refusing to comply with the mandates of the (Nevada Public Records Act) by repeatedly merely promising a ‘further response’ to requests for public records, rather than complying with the act and either providing the requested records or an ‘estimated date and time’ as to when they will be made available,’” the complaint states.

The institute also so argues that state law prohibits the district from denying a records request if it can redact confidential information.

The district said in a statement that it investigates all allegations and concerns that are brought to its attention.

“We are aware of and adhere to all laws relating to the protection of whistleblowers,” said spokeswoman Kirsten Searer. “In general, confidential personnel records are not required to be produced under public records law.”

The district has developed a reputation as being prone to withholding public records.

NPRI has battled the school district before over public records, including a 2015 case in which the Nevada Supreme Court ruled that the district could not refuse to release teachers’ work email addresses.

The Review-Journal also has a longstanding public records lawsuit against the district that has made its way to the state Supreme Court.

The lawsuit seeks all remaining documents related to the behavior of Trustee Kevin Child, who was the center of an internal investigation that concluded the trustee created a hostile work environment.

Contact Amelia Pak-Harvey at apak-harvey@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4630. Follow @AmeliaPakHarvey on Twitter.

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