Outside Legal Counsel PLC

Hastings Senior Sues His School District Over Secret Expulsion Proceedings, Records

For Immediate Release | May 24, 2013

Hastings, Michigan - A high school senior, within a few weeks of graduation, has filed a lawsuit against his school district alleging violations of the Open Meetings Act and Freedom of Information Act for the district's failure to disclose who it has expelled over the past three years.

By his attorney from Saginaw-based Outside Legal Counsel, Zach Olson filed a government transparency lawsuit in the Barry County Circuit Court alleging that Hastings Community School System has failed to keep accurate minutes of public school board meetings where board members have voted to expel students by procedures draped in secrecy.

Olson made a FOIA request in late April for the names of all students expelled by Hastings' Board of Education from 2009 to the present. Hastings denied the request citing the Michigan's adoption of the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, commonly known as FERPA (pronounced FUR PAH). FERPA is a federal law which conditions federal school funding on keeping certain education records private.

The lawsuit claims at least three Hastings students were expelled by a vote of the Board of Education, including one in January 2011 and two on or near October 2, 2012.

"Schools' use of FERPA as justification for non-disclosure of public decisions has been criticized by open government advocates and journalists," alleges the complaint.

"This is one of the few cases of its type ever to have been brought into a Michigan courtroom," states Philip L. Ellison, the attorney from Saginaw-based Outside Legal Counsel representing the student. "While undoubtedly FERPA protects an embarrassing grade in Algebra class, it cannot and should not serve as a way to hide those who brought weapons or drugs to school and were expelled."

Filings by Attorney Ellison seek to have a judicial decision before the end of July as Olson is set to start basic training as a member of the United States Army.

The case has been assigned to Judge Amy L. McDowell.