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Decision No. 13,898

Appeal of EDUARDO MARTINEZ from action of Susan Reichardt, Records Access Officer of the Valley Central School District, regarding access to school records.

Decision No. 13,898

(March 23, 1998)

Donoghue, Thomas, Auslander & Drohan, Esqs., attorneys for respondent, Daniel Petigrow, Esq., of counsel


MILLS, Commissioner.--Petitioner seeks access to certain records of the Valley Central School District ("district"). The appeal must be dismissed.

Petitioner submitted a request for access to various categories of district records, basing his request on Education Law "2116. His request was granted in part and denied in part, and he commenced this appeal asking that I order the district to fully comply with his request and direct an investigation of the district. Petitioner's request for a stay pending a determination on the merits was denied.

Respondent contends that its Records Access Officer properly handled the request, that petitioner's appeal is moot, that petitioner failed to exhaust his administrative remedies by appealing to the district's Appeal Officer, and that I lack subject matter jurisdiction.

The provisions in Education Law "2116 date from 1894 and state the general rule that school district records are available for inspection by qualified voters of the district. The Freedom of Information Law ("FOIL") was enacted in 1977 (Public Officers Law Article 6). Under FOIL, all records of public agencies, including school districts, are available to the public unless they fall within one of the statutory categories of deniable records.

Petitioner contends that "2116 applies to all information or files generated by the district. The Freedom of Information Law expressly preserves the right of access to records granted by other provisions of law, such as Education Law "2116 (Public Officers Law "89[6]). However, the FOIL exemptions must be read as having engrafted, as a matter of public policy, certain limitations on the disclosure of otherwise accessible records (Matter of Xerox Corp. v. Town of Webster, et al., 65 NY2d 131; Matter of Duncan v. Savino, et al., 90 Misc 2d 282; Advisory Opinions of the Committee on Open Government (FOIL), Nos. 8344 and 8036). Consequently, there is no broader scope of review under "2116 than under FOIL.

Prior to FOIL, an appeal to the Commissioner under Education Law "310 was an appropriate means of administrative review of a school district's compliance with "2116, as the Commissioner was the State officer with general supervisory responsibility for school districts. Now, FOIL designates a different agency, the Committee on Open Government, as the State agency responsible for monitoring access to public records, and provides an administrative appeal from the determination of the Records Access Officer to the board of education or Appeal Officer, followed by the right of judicial review. Consequently, since its enactment, the Commissioner of Education has consistently declined to exercise jurisdiction over appeals relating to access to school district records (Appeal of Greening, 36 Ed Dept Rep 394; Appeal of Goldman, 35 id. 126; Appeal of Cahill, 22 id. 503; Appeal of Jones, 16 id. 426 [1977]). It is clear that petitioner's request for records is governed by FOIL. Accordingly, I will not exercise jurisdiction over petitioner's claims (Public Officers Law "89[4]; Appeal of Goldman, supra).

In light of this disposition, I need not address respondent's remaining contentions.