Sequim schools agree to $40K settlement over public records dispute

District updates policy to ‘beef up’ consultation with third parties

SEQUIM — The Sequim School District has settled a public records dispute with a Whidbey Island resident for $40,000.

Board directors at their regular meeting on April 22 approved the payment to Eric Hood of Langley following a May 2020 Public Records Act request.

Directors approved the settlement in the general fund vouchers and approved in the consent agenda with no discussion.

School board president Eric Pickens said he is prevented from speaking about the payment per terms of the settlement.

The school district posted a note on its public records web page (sequimschools.org/departments/public_records): “The District’s initial response to Mr. Eric Hood’s May 18, 2020 request did not comply with the Public Records Act. The District has revised its Procedure 4040P to reflect those compliance requirements and facilitate future public records processing.”

Board directors agreed to offer a settlement in executive session at the end of a board meeting on March 4 but did not disclose the settlement amount or the person to whom it was awarded.

In an email in April, Hood provided the terms of the settlement — one that includes revision of its public records disclosure procedure, admitting the district’s initial response did not comply with the PRA and that proper Public Records Act requires: “a. careful reading requests, making no assumptions about the requester’s intended meaning without confirming that intent with the requester, and b. determining whether the request could be relevant to elected officials, higher management, and any third party retaining public records for the District, whose files may also contain responsive records, and if so, search their files.”

Victoria Balint, the school district’s director of Human Resources, said the changes to the policy were made because “we needed to beef up our consultation with third parties who hold records on our behalf.”

Hood also agreed to drop a pending lawsuit filed in Clallam County Superior Court, according to the settlement.

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Michael Dashiell is the editor of the Sequim Gazette of the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which also is composed of other Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News and Forks Forum. Reach him at editor@sequimgazette.com.

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