WILL sues Madison Metropolitan School District over open records delays

MADISON, Wis. — A conservative law firm has filed suit against the Madison Metropolitan School District, alleging the district is not complying with state open records law.

The lawsuit from the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, filed Tuesday in Dane County, accuses the district of failing to respond to a records request from last January, violating a state law that requires government entities to, “as soon as practicable and without delay, either fill the request or notify the requester of the authority’s determination to deny the request in whole or in part and the reasons therefor.”

In January 2022, WILL requested a complete version of a district policy related to small instructional groups the law firm alleges discriminates against students based on race.

The request came after multiple district employees reached out to the firm about the policy. One, the lawsuit says, provided a photo of a portion of the policy that said, in part, that Black students should be prioritized in the small instructional groups.

“Prioritize your African American students meeting with you first and more often,” the policy purportedly reads. “Prioritize your English Language learners meeting with you second and more often… Group the rest of the students after you’ve prioritized your AA and ELL students.”

After requesting the full policy on January 31, 2022, the lawsuit alleges WILL has not received a status update since March 8 or the policy it requested, even after WILL deputy counsel Dan Lennington threatened in September to sue the district “because there is no possible explanation as to why you haven’t responded.”

In an interview with News 3 Now Tuesday afternoon, WILL associate counsel Cory Brewer called the nearly year-long delay “outrageous” and blasted the district as “by far the worst offender in terms of delays and failure to provide status updates, failure to provide responses generally.”

“This is a pattern with the Madison school district,” she said. “WILL has run into issues with open records; other organizations have as well, and the public deserves to know what’s in these records.”

In a statement to News 3 Now, MMSD spokesperson Tim LeMonds said the district had not been notified of the lawsuit as of late Tuesday afternoon and that it does not comment on pending litigation.

LeMonds also said “the language referenced by WILL was not a part of MMSD policy, rather it was language found in a singular guidance document, the content of which was modified over a year ago.”

“Counter to WILL’s narratives, MMSD strives to create learning spaces where all students, staff and families can thrive,” he wrote. “Part of our work is to ensure our scholars have the necessary supports in place for academic and social-emotional success. ”

As part of its lawsuit, WILL alleges MMSD only has one staff person dedicated to responding to open records requests and that, as of September, that role was vacant. LeMonds did not confirm whether that was the case.