West York district files appeal to avoid releasing bus bullying video

Rhonda Lucky greets fellow parents as they arrive for a public meeting to voice concerns about reported bullying in West York School District, Monday, January 28, 2019.
John A. Pavoncello photo

West York Area School District filed an appeal Wednesday seeking to suppress the release of a video that allegedly shows a student getting bullied on a school bus.

On Tuesday, the district board approved filing the appeal by a 6-2 vote, in an attempt to overturn a May 15 ruling by the state Office of Open Records. OOR ruled in favor of Fox 43 News reporter Samantha Galvez.

"In my mind, the TV will just pull this little section and play a little clip and West York will get negative publicity in however the news media wanted to portray it," said board member Suzanne Smith.

The Right-to-Know dispute stems from an incident in December, when Rhonda Lucky says her son was punched and held down while riding the bus. Over the following months, Lucky has criticized how an administrator also riding the bus responded at the time and how the district has reacted since. 

In Wednesday's appeal, the district's attorney, Jeffrey Litts, argued that state law doesn't require public bodies to create a record that doesn't already exist. In her Right-to-Know request, Galvez requested a video with students' faces blurred. The existing video does not blur the faces of those captured, and the district doesn't have the technology to alter the video to meet Galvez's request. 

More:West York parents claim lack of response to bullying in district

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The district also argued that, as an "educational record," the video is exempt from disclosure under state law.

OOR ruled that the video was not an educational record. It also noted the video was used for "discouraging student misbehavior" and safety and security purposes, which means it's not exempt from disclosure.

Board member George Margetas was in favor of releasing the video but said he would defer to the district solicitor's recommendation to appeal OOR's decision.

Recently, parents and taxpayers have accused West York officials of not being transparent about several issues. 

Board member Donald Carl said it would be best to release the video in the interest of transparency and community confidence.

"It's making the community trust us less," he said.

Board Vice President Jeanne Herman agreed, saying that if the district and board had been open with the community in the first place, they would not be in this situation.

More:West York school district responds to bullying claims

Herman and Carl both voted against the appeal.

Galvez contends footage related to discipline is not an education record because it's only tangentially related to students, according to documents.

Rather, it's directly related to the behavior of a teacher who is paid with tax dollars, she said in her filing to OOR, which came after the district declined her Right-to-Know request.

"That statement is simply untrue, and directly contradicts the wording of her actual request — which asked for video footage of an incident that directly relates to students," district officials wrote in a March filing.