Barrington schools refuse to release any records of legal services

School department denies multiple requests for legal bills or law firm contract; Barrington Times files AG complaint

Posted 12/10/19

Barrington school officials have refused to release any details about what they have spent on legal services to fight a lengthy battle with the family of a middle school student who was improperly …

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Barrington schools refuse to release any records of legal services

School department denies multiple requests for legal bills or law firm contract; Barrington Times files AG complaint

Posted

Barrington school officials have refused to release any details about what they have spent on legal services to fight a lengthy battle with the family of a middle school student who was improperly suspended from school for three days in 2018, and they have now refused to release any information whatsoever about their financial relationship with legal counsel.

Responding to a Barrington Times request, Barrington Schools Director of Finance and Administration Doug Fiore sent a Nov. 11 letter explaining that the school department cannot release any details of legal costs for the 18-month school suspension case, because they do not have any detailed records. 

He explained that their legal bills track only topical areas, like “Labor” or “Grievances.” Therefore, legal bills with any specific details “do not exist.”

In response, the Barrington Times asked if the request was not being framed properly, and if the records could be obtained from the firm itself. The newspaper went further and requested a copy of any “contract, agreement or binder” that describes the school department’s relationship with its legal counsel, as well as any and all bills from that firm in 2019. Though never actually identified by school officials, the firm representing the department in the middle school suspension case is Whelan Corrente and Flanders LLP.

On Dec. 2, Mr. Fiore wrote back to the Times and reiterated that they have no records about the case, and he then refused to release any records of the financial relationship with the firm. 

Mr. Fiore wrote that all records between the school department and the law firm are exempt from public disclosure under the Rhode Island Public Records Act, which allows a government body to withhold records relating to “attorney/client relationship.”

Mr. Fiore continued his argument to say that state law allows them to withhold “trade secrets and commercial or financial information obtained from a person, firm or corporation which is of a privileged and confidential nature.”

The Barrington Times, represented by Editor Josh Bickford and General Manager Scott Pickering, filed a formal complaint with the Rhode Island Attorney General’s Office on Dec. 6, alleging the school department has violated Rhode Island open records laws.

The suspension case dates back to March of 2018, when a group of boys were suspended from Barrington Middle School for three days, after they took part in a lunchroom discussion about school shootings. That conversation was overheard by one girl, who told her parents, who called police, who investigated thoroughly and found no threat from any of the students.

However, Barrington Middle School Principal Andy Anderson suspended the boys, and one of them later appealed the suspension.

That student's appeal has been upheld by both the Rhode Island Department of Education and the Council on Elementary and Secondary Education, which both ordered the Barrington School Department to vacate the suspension and remove all documentation from the student's record.

The Barrington School Committee instead decided to push the case further and recently filed suit in Rhode Island Superior Court, against both the education department and the boy, seeking to have the suspension upheld.

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.