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Virginia Supreme Court to Hear Clifton Elementary Case

The state Supreme Court meets Monday to hear the controversial case involving public records.

The Virginia Supreme Court is scheduled to hear a case today involving public records related to the decision to close Clifton Elementary School.

The lawsuit, filed by resident Jill DeMello Hill last year, argued that elected officials, members of the school board, violated FOIA laws by emailing each other about the school’s closure before a July 2010 public meeting was held on the matter, among other issues.

The Circuit Court of Fairfax County initially dismissed DeMello's complaint against the school board.

If the appeal is successful, it will not necessarily lead to the school’s reopening, but it could mean that the board would be required to once again take a look at the situation, said Michael Guiffre of Patton Boggs, the Washington D.C.-based firm that is representing Hill.

The Washington Post reported Friday that in a brief related to the matter, attorneys representing the school board argued that further constraints on communication among board members would disrupt the “balance between government transparency and efficiency.”

A separate lawsuit filed by a group of Clifton parents that had to do with the merits of the board’s decision to close the school was struck down in Fairfax County courts. The Virginia Supreme Court determined earlier this year that they would not be hearing that case.

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Sheree Brown-Kaplan April 17, 2012 at 04:46 PM
FCPS stated in its brief that, “[I]t would undermine effective government if Virginia’s open-meetings laws were made so restrictive that they chilled or prohibited substantive discussions between two officials outside of the confines of a public meeting.” The whole point of the VA open-meeting law is to ensure that such substantive discussions are public. The power of government is not just in making and enforcing rules, it's in the step before that called "deliberation." The public back and forth between school board members PRIOR TO A DECISION is where openness must occur, and exempting substantive serial email communications thwarts the purpose of the law. Ms. Hill is correct; the decision to close Clifton ES was predetermined and the "public" meeting was just for show. Having the appearance of openness does not fulfill the demands of the VA FOIA. The Supreme Court should reverse the lower court and confirm the violation.

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