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    Ithaca Schools spent $20k in losing fight over anti-Israel 3rd Grade event records

    Ithaca Schools spent $20k in losing fight over anti-Israel 3rd Grade event records

    What a waste of taxpayer money.

    The Ithaca Journal has an article today about my court victory against the Ithaca City School District (ICSD) seeking records under the NY Freedom of Information Law regarding the anti-Israel 3rd Grade event.

    The Ithaca Journal article, discussed below, reveals that ICSD spent over $20,000 in its fight to avoid having to disclose video and documents regarding the event.

    I laid out the history and the court ruling in my post, Another Legal Insurrection victory: Ct orders video released of anti-Israel 3rd Grade event.

    The short version is that for the second time, the court granted virtually all my requests, including forcing ICSD to release a video of the event. Before the litigation began I suggested the video be redacted by ICSD to protect student privacy, but ICSD refused to release ANY portion of the video or audio, even the portions that didn’t contain student images or voices.  Instead, ICSD produced a partial transcript with obvious gaps.

    The court order rejected ICSD’s position that it could withhold the entire video, and ordered precisely what I had offered many months earlier, to have a redacted version of the video produced. The court also ordered ICSD to account for possibly missing or unopened video clips:

    The FOIL response contains a copy of an email from Ariel Gold to Brook Burnett, the teacher involved, and to Susan Eschbach, Principal at BJM, dated September 18, 2015, which attaches two videos that Gold took during the presentation using her phone (attached in electronic format as “.MOV” files). The FOIL response further shows that Eschbach was unable to open the attachments and that ICSD staff subsequently sought additional copies of the video recordings from Gold. However, ICSD does not deny that it has the video files that Gold originally provided, does not state whether she provided further copies, nor indicate whether it has been successful in viewing the Gold video recordings. Accordingly, ICSD shall submit an affidavit or affidavits from an employee or employees with personal knowledge stating: (1) when it received copies of the .MOV video files from Gold; (2) whether it continues to possess such files and, if not, when and how they were destroyed or deleted; (3) if copies were provided to any person or party by ICSD, the identity of any such recipient, the date or dates on which the files were sent, and the mechanism of the transfer; (4) whether attempts were made to open and view the files after Eschbach’s unsuccessful initial attempt to view them; and (5) whether such further attempts, if any, were successful. If ICSD was successful in opening and viewing the files, it shall provide petitioner with copies of the video recordings redacted in the same manner as directed above. If it has video files from Gold that it has been unable to open, it will provide copies to the court for further review and determination.

    The Ithaca Journal has an article today in which I am quoted, ICSD to release video of controversial talk:

    After a one-year battle and more than $20,000 in legal fees, the Ithaca City School District will release the footage of a guest speech by activist Bassim Tamimi at Beverly J. Martin Elementary School in the fall of 2015.

    The decision results from a Freedom of Information Law Request filed last September by Cornell law professor and conservative blogger William Jacobson, who wrote about the speech last year on his blog,….

    Initially released in the form of a written transcript because the video itself contained the voices and faces of the district’s third-grade students, Judge Phillip Rumsey, a justice for the Cortland County Supreme Court in the 6th Judicial District of New York, ruled Friday the video should be released if Jacobson is willing to pay for the redaction of the video.

    In an email to The Ithaca Journal on Monday, Jacobson said ICSD had not yet provided the cost of redacting the videos….

    Jacobson said at the start of the process, he asked ICSD to release the video with redactions to protect student privacy but was denied, instead receiving an incomplete, partial transcript.

    “Ultimately, the court agreed with me and ordered ICSD to do what I had proposed a year ago,” Jacobson said in a statement. “The court also is reviewing the massive redactions to documents by ICSD, and more documents may be ordered released. ICSD wasted taxpayer money fighting a losing battle to conceal video and documents.”

    Incredibly, ICSD issued a statement printed in the Ithaca Journal article acting as if it were vindicated and implying the the FOIL requests, not ICSD’s intransigence, were the problem:

    “Following a presentation by Bassim Tamimi at the Beverly J. Martin Elementary School last year, the Ithaca City School District received a series of FOIL requests from William Jacobson, author of the website.  The district responded by providing hundreds of pages of documents.  The district declined to produce video footage of the event itself taken by a community member because the video contained the voices and faces of the district’s third grade students.  Instead, the district provided Mr. Jacobson with a transcript of the video.  Other records were withheld or redacted in order to protect the confidentiality of students, community members, and district personnel.  For example, although the district provided Mr. Jacobson with the substance of the written complaints it received regarding the Tamimi appearance, following consultation with the Committee on Open Government, it redacted the names and contact information of the complaining individuals in order to preserve their privacy.  In April 2016, Mr. Jacobson filed a petition seeking disclosure of the undisclosed records and removal of all redactions.”

    The case continues. The court will be ruling on the extensive redactions to documents by ICSD as well as documents completely withheld by ICSD. Additionally, ICSD must provide the affidavit as to possibly missing or unopened video clips, and must provide me with the cost of redaction.

    Hopefully ICSD will not try to subvert the court order with an excessive claim of redaction cost — if it does we’ll be back in court.


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    Ragspierre | September 27, 2016 at 5:55 pm

    Great job, Prof. Keep on ’em…!!!

    Hopefully ICSD will not try to subvert the court order with an excessive claim of redaction cost — if it does we’ll be back in court.

    Oh, yes they will.
    Don’t forget it’s not their own money they’re spending.

    nomadic100 | September 27, 2016 at 6:39 pm

    I would be interested in knowing who, if anyone, gave whoever made a video recording of the event in question permission to record the matter in the first place. And then it seems the video was shared with other(s). Who gave permission for that? I suspect – actually, I trust – that the appeal to “privacy rights” of the students and staff inveighed by the school district is simply subterfuge for denying the professor’s FOIA suit. If I were a parent with a child at the school I would want answers to those questions. As Glenn Reynolds is wont to say, putting one’s child in public schools (especially boys) is parental malpractice.

    good enough morgan | September 27, 2016 at 10:19 pm

    Maybe the taxpayers will wise up. Nah. It’s Ithaca.

      Due to NYS law, the Ithaca taxpayers have only in the last several years been able to vote on the school budget at all. Now the only part of the budget they get to vote on is the part which does not include salary contracts, i.e. sports and extracurricular activities.

      The school district holds the sports, music, art, etc. programs hostage to approval of the budget.

      It’s not the taxpayers who need to wise up – it’s the parents.

      In case you think I’m being too hard on foolish parents, I was one. My family has suffered, and I have repented. I am trying to warn others.

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