ACLU-NJ reaches settlement with Newark public schools over release of public records

By Peggy McGlone/The Star-Ledger
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on April 14, 2014

Mark Zuckerberg, pictured here in 2010 with then Newark Mayor Cory Booker, donated $100 million to Newark schools. The foundation established to distribute the funds received records from the Newark school district that were later denied to a parents' organization.


NEWARK — A parents group will receive documents the Newark Public Schools had denied them last year, after district officials shared the papers with a private education foundation.

The Secondary Parents Council filed a lawsuit last November demanding access to interim reports on school performance and teacher contracts that the district previously had emailed to the Foundation for Newark’s Future, the organization established to match and distribute the $100 million donation from Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg.

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey yesterday announced a settlement of the lawsuit that requires the SPC and the rest of the public have access to the reports.

The ACLU said the records were subject to the Open Public Records Act because they were shared with a private entity.

SPC president emeritus Laura Baker said the public records shouldn be available to everyone.

"Investing in your child’s future shouldn’t require actual payment but the Foundation for Newark’s Future had special access to public records precisely because of its financial relationship to the schools," Baker said. "We’re pleased to finally be able to see these records, but it shouldn’t take a lawsuit to get Newark Public Schools to follow the state’s transparency law."

The district rejected the OPRA request, claiming the documents were deliberative and thus exempt from state law. But the ACLU maintained that once the district gave the records to the Foundation for Newark’s Future, it waived the right to conceal them.

"When it comes to public records, officials don’t get to choose which members of the public can have access and which can’t," ACLU-NJ’s Legal Director Ed Barocas said in a statement. "A document is either public or not. The administration cannot give favored groups access to records and then claim those records are confidential when groups outside the inner circle request the same documents."

Requests for comment from the district were not immediately returned.

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