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Judge Rules Fayetteville District Violated Freedom of Information Act, Orders District to Pay Attorney Fees

On Wednesday, a judge ruled that the Fayetteville Public School District violated the Freedom of Information Act by not providing the documents requested in the FOIA in a timely manner. Washington County Circuit Judge Mark Lindsay also awarded attorney fees and expenses to the plaintiff, Fayetteville citizen Ila Campbell.

The plaintiff’s attorneys, Joey McCutchen and Chip Sexton, both of Fort Smith, filed the lawsuit in Washington County on June 25 on behalf of Campbell.

Campbell sent two separate FOIA requests to the Fayetteville Public School District. The original FOIA was sent May 17 requesting documentation and communications regarding the gender support plan, the TRUE TRAIN Northwest Arkansas program, the 5 Year Equity Competency Program, The 1619 Program, and Critical Race Theory.

The second FOIA was filed June 10, requesting additional documentation on the Equity Plan including assessment processes produced through the collaboration with the University of Arkansas IDEALS Institute, the DEI assessment tools used through the equity plan, the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) as administered by the Ideals Institute to evaluate the equity plan, the strategic communication toolkit, and the racial equity toolkit.

The second FOIA also requested additional communications regarding policies and procedures regarding the implementation of the gender support plan, internal memos regarding the banning of the Christmas holiday and removing the word “Christmas” from external communication, as well as all documents, memos, emails and written communications with the Converge Social Justice Consulting Firm, the University of Arkansas’ IDEALS Institute, TRUE NW Arkansas Train, and all emails to or from any FPSD employees or FPSD School Board Member and the city council and mayor’s office.

Because the district failed to comply with the FOIA, a lawsuit was filed.

Interestingly enough, once the lawsuit was filed, the school district did turn over nearly 10,000 pages of documents, but that did not happen until after the lawsuit was filed.

“If anyone prevailed today, it is Mrs. Campbell,” Judge Lindsay stated.

“I appreciate Judge Lyndsay’s commitment to enforcing FOIA law and stressing its importance to transparency in government. Hopefully, this will send the message to the FPSD that they are not exempt from the rule of law,” Campbell said.

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