As many of our readers know, over the past few weeks the Courier received numerous comments and requests to look into recent policies and decisions made by leaders and administrators of the Liberty County School System.
We conducted interviews with Superintendent Dr. Valya Lee and others, going the extra mile to give everyone involved a chance to respond in a fair and impartial way. Those stories focused on an interview with Dr. Lee, a story concerning the termination of the STAR program and a decision by the school board to renew Dr. Lee’s contract at a higher rate of pay.
Following publication of these stories, we began to feel a decidedly cool chill developing between the school administration, members of the school board and the Courier news staff. As a matter of fact, the school administration seems to have decided to not talk directly to our news staff at all, instead communicating through official press releases and email. To cover the Liberty County School System administration, we now are forced to:
• request information solely through email.
• ensure that emails requesting information are limited to no more than three or four questions.
• submit a formal Freedom of Information Act request to receive documents that previously were shared freely with the media (meeting packets and supplemental materials referred to by board members during meetings).
• pay for these meeting packets. Agencies do have the right to charge, however according to the FOIA.gov website, “There usually no charge for the first two hours of search time or for the first 100 pages of duplication.” The Courier recently was charged $8.80 for an 88-page meeting packet that, according to a central-office administrator, took 15 minutes to print.
• School employees will not agree to be interviewed or discuss matters over the phone. Following publication of two of the earlier stories, two LCSS staff members immediately canceled scheduled meetings with our news staff and two others declined requests to meet.
This is an unfortunate reaction by the Liberty County School System administration, and the result is decreased transparency and less news about our schools delivered to Liberty County citizens. We have much to be thankful for in our schools, including great teachers, administrators and personnel who go beyond expectations to deliver the best instruction to students while fostering solid character development.
And, of course, we all lose when public officials are not open to fair and honest communication with the residents they serve.
The Courier strives to deliver information to our community in a fair and impartial manner and has a tradition of support for the Liberty County School System in its effort to provide excellence in education. We will continue to uphold that tradition.