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In Scathing Decision, Judge Vacates Gist's Order Denying EG Parent Access to Child's Records

Associate Justice Allen P. Rubine said there was no record of any hearing or transcript or determination by the School Committee with respect to the parent's complaint, calling it "glaringly absent."

A Superior Court judge has vacated a decision by state Education Commissioner Deborah Gist to deny an East Greenwich parent's access to his son's school record and his request for the district to retract statements in the record by a school official "that were allegedly false."

The matter now heads back to the School Committee, which has been given firm instructions to start over and document their hearings after the judge concluded that facts and details from the case were "glaringly absent" from the official record.

In the April 29 decision filed in Kent County Superior Court, Associate Justice Allen P. Rubine ruled that Gist erred when she concluded that she lacked jurisdiction to hear an appeal filed by the parent subsequent to the School Committee's denial of the requests.

The parent, identified in court records as John Doe, sought records from 2008 and wanted the school district to "provide a full account of the process and justification for the school's decision to withhold information from him concerning [a school matter relating to his child,]" the ruling states.

He also wanted the committee to retract a statement made by a school official recommending services for his son.

The committee denied the request, sending it to the former Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education, now known as the Rhode Island Board of Education and Gist, upon the recommendation of a hearing officer, determined she lacked the authority to intervene. She granted the School Committee's motion to dismiss the appeal.

In Rubine's ruling, he noted there was no record of any hearing or transcript or determination by the School Committee with respect to the parent's complaint, calling it "glaringly absent." 

In fact, Rubine put the word "record" in quotes to highlight what he characterized as a poorly-executed and woefully-documented response to a parent's complaint and said it would be "impossible for the Commissioner to hear and determine an appeal from the [School Committee] without any record of what this Committee heard or decided," he wrote.

"This Court does not even contain a copy of the Petitioner's claim, either to the school itself, or any request to have a decision of the school reviewed by the School Committee," Rubine wrote. "Rather than dismiss the appeal, the proper disposition would have been to remand the matter to the school committee to make a record and reach a decision on [the parent's] complaint and request for relief," Rubine wrote, adding that Gist did schedule, but then cancelled a hearing on the parent's appeal.

He further noted that Gist and the Board of Education has the authority to respond to requests to address potentially false or inaccurate information in school records.

The hearing officer's presentation of the case as a non-educational issue that was too distant in the past — Gist found "the petitioner had unreasonably delayed seeking relief" — was "an unlawful procedure, affected by error of law," Rubine concluded.

In a Feb. 26 letter, Rubine told everyone involved in the controversy that there were concerns about the inadequacy of the record filed with the court.

In response, lawyers for the School Committee said the local board "does not believe that 'the hearing before the appeals Committee of the Board of Education is part of the official record.'"

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