EDITORIAL: Release video, school board
Sorry, Ms. Smith. The public's right to know doesn't hinge on whether information makes you look bad.
Suzanne Smith, a board member at West York Area School District, this past week laid bare the real reason officials are battling so hard to suppress the release of footage from one of its school buses.
It's all about optics. And, of course, it's all the "media's" fault.
"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," Smith said.
And what's on that video that concerns district officials so much that they've filed a lawsuit to suppress its release under the state's Right-to-Know Law?
It all started back in December, when Rhonda Lucky said her son was beaten up on a West York bus and accused district officials of collectively shrugging off bullying. Lucky's public campaign caught the media's attention. And Fox 43 News reporter Samantha Galvez filed a Right-to-Know request demanding the release of the footage.
As public entities so often do, West York officials cobbled together some legalese and denied Galvez' request. She appealed to the state Office of Open Records, which ruled the video is public and, as such, must be released.
And last week, West York's school board voted 7-2 to file a lawsuit to quash the release.
West York's attorneys can and will perform all sorts of mental gymnastics in their effort to keep that video from the public's view. It's an "educational record," they'll say. Galvez crafted her request in such a way that it would require the district to "create a record that doesn't exist," they'll squeal.
OOR rejected both of those arguments for the video's exemption from Right-to-Know Law. So, too, should the courts.
And Smith's cynicism — the real reason West York is undercutting transparency — should be all the evidence the court needs to toss the district's lawsuit.
Apparently, seven members of West York's school board don't understand that they're public officials overseeing a taxpayer-funded institution. Apparently, they're not aware that the merits of Lucky's allegations are irrelevant to the issue of the video's release. Apparently, they believe the public — the very people footing the bill for their attorneys — aren't smart enough to handle the facts of the matter.
To be fair, at least one school board member identified just how counterproductive the board's little crusade against accountability actually is.
"It's making the community trust us less," said board member Donald Carl prior to last week's vote.
West York's continued assault on transparency will inflame suspicions that the district has something to hide. And the damage it breeds will fester long after Rhonda Lucky's accusations have faded.