“Unquestionably, settlement agreements are public records under FOIA.” You can’t get much clearer than that opinion from Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office, issued when St. Clair County tried to withhold the details of out-of-court settlements despite Illinois’ Freedom of Information Act. The county handed over the records after that.
And yet here we go again. Two St. Clair County school districts — Harmony-Emge District 175 in Belleville and Collinsville Unit 10 — refuse to release some legal settlement information. They’re hiding behind “student confidentiality,” which is ludicrous. When someone takes money from taxpayers to settle or avoid a lawsuit, that person has given up any right to privacy. East St. Louis School District 189 is one of the districts that understands that. It released settlement information with the names included. Kudos.
If student privacy were Collinsville’s and Harmony-Emge’s real concern, they would redact names and other identifying information as O’Fallon High School District 203 did. Instead, they’re squandering a lot of time and resources to keep the public from learning any details of important public business. What are they hiding?
The attorney general’s office no doubt eventually will order these school districts to release the information. But there will be no repercussions for the districts’ failure to hand over the information when it was requested in September. That’s why districts deny requests even in clear-cut situations like these. They can always hope that the people requesting information will get tired, give up and they’ll still be able to conduct public business in secret.