Parent files complaint against district over FOI request

Larry Hayes -
Larry Hayes
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A member of the parents' group opposed to the Burnaby school district's anti-homophobia policy has filed a formal complaint over the district's handling of his freedom of information request.

Since April, George Kovacic of Parents' Voice has sought all the information, meeting minutes and notes, documents and correspondence the district has related to the policy, which the school board approved in June.

District staff have asked him to narrow the scope of his request to reduce the fees that would be levied for staff time and photocopying costs in fulfilling it.

Kovacic filed the complaint with B.C.'s Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner after inadvertently receiving an email from Betty Choi, executive assistant to district superintendent Claudio Morelli, which was meant for Sandra Brunner, executive assistant to district secretary-treasurer Greg Frank.

In it, Choi wrote: "I just read the letter we sent to him regarding the costs. I don’t see any reference to anything being exempt, just that beyond 3 hours of research, we will charge. I don’t think we should get in a flap over this, we should just let him initiate his complaint to the Privacy Commissioner, and then wait for them to contact us, that will delay him even further, maybe past the elections. I heard he is running on the new civic team taht (sic) Parents Voice is forming for election of trustees!"

Kovacic said in a press release, “The conduct of the Burnaby School Trustees and District staff is reprehensible. Our suspicions as parents have now been confirmed: there is a deliberate strategy to stonewall the FOI process and withhold crucial documents from parents, taxpayers and the media.

He added that despite Choi's statement, "I have never planned to, nor do I intend to run as a Trustee."

Morelli said his assistant's email was sent out at the end of July when the majority of senior staff, including himself, Frank and his assistant, Brunner, were away on vacation.

No one was in the office to continue working on the FOI request, he said, and Choi  is normally not involved in such requests. Due to Brunner's absence, Kovacic's original message was forwarded to Choi who thought she was replying to her colleague.

"Betty's response was an error in judgement by the staff member and her response is not representative of the board [of education's] position," said Morelli, who noted "the trustees had nothing to do with that response that was put forward by Betty."

Burnaby school board chair Larry Hayes said he didn't learn of the errant email until being informed of it by Morelli Tuesday morning, the first time they'd spoken in weeks due to the summer break.

"Certainly the optics don't look good," Hayes said. "Again I think it was more just a personal comment in an email between two assistants and we're certainly not wanting to throw Betty under the bus because of an errant comment like that."

Trustees are not involved in the FOI process other than being informed of requests and how they're being handled, he said, noting that Choi would also not be involved nor even sit in on meetings.

Now that staff have returned from summer vacations, they will continue to work on gathering the information being requested which is "pretty extensive," Morelli said.

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