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Citizens opposed to Lexington / Richland Five’s policy on obtaining information

White Rock, SC (Paul Kirby) A group of concerned citizens in the Chapin, White Rock, Ballentine, and Irmo areas who are opposed to proposed changes in the policies that govern how they or anyone can ask questions of the Board of Trustees of Lexington / Richland School District Five, are rallying a group of citizens and encouraging them to speak out against the proposed changes. At issue is what the group believes to be an important component board policy.

At Monday’s meeting of the board, the agenda included the second reading of the proposed changes to policy BEDH "Public Participation at Meetings.” According to the organizers of the group that are opposed to the changes, traditionally, the public has been able to submit questions in writing at board meetings,and then at a later date, get written responses that would be sent to them and also posted on the district’s web site. The new policy being considered would dictate that the public utilize the Freedom of Information Act or FOIA process to submit these questions. This often requires that the person requesting the information fill out a specific FOIA form and submit it under specific guidelines. The organizers say there is language in the new policy that indicates that they "may" respond to written questions outside of those submitted via the FOIA process; however, the language appears very subjective in nature, according to the group. In short the word “may” can be interpreted in many ways and differently by whoever is tasked with deciding who gets information through the old, easier procedure, and who is required to take the more cumbersome route.

The FOIA process is a necessary mechanism for the public to submit certain queries for information of public organizations and officials. It is used by public agencies both large and small. However, the group that is organized to oppose the changes say that for these type of questions, the concern is that the FOIA process is more difficult for the public. They used as an example the following. The school district charges fees for personnel time, copies and other expenses associated with responding to a FOIA request. The district claims that the current process/policy is burdensome on district personnel who have to take the time to research and answer these questions and the district has no way of being reimbursed if someone or some group bombards them with questions that absorb lots of the district’s resources. It is however, the opinion of the public opposed to the changes, that under this new process, the public would be more encumbered by the process and additional cost to obtain information. In their statement on social media, the organizers said they felt as if the district should be promoting more collaboration and transparency between the district and the public; Making it more complicated to obtain information does not promote this philosophy.

It remains to be seen if the changes to the policy will pass its second test and make it through the second reading tonight. If it does, the board will have one last and final reading before the changes take effect. We will continue t update you on this issue as it is important to the citizens and children of both Richland and Lexington County.

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