Coatesville schools need time for newspaper’s requests

DSC_0467The Coatesville Area School District is conducting a legal review of three Right-to-Know requests filed by the Daily Local News regarding the departure of two senior administrators earlier this month.

The Daily Local News received three letters signed by attorney and school district solicitor James E. Ellison Thursday in response to Right-to-Know requests filed by the newspaper on Sept. 4. The requests were filed in response to the abrupt “retirement” of former superintendent Richard Como and the resignation of former Athletics and Activities Director Jim Donato.

One of the requests was for a complete list of district-issued cell phones and the names of district employees associated with each phone number. That request was filed after an anonymous source provided the Daily Local News with four pages of transcripts showing text message exchanges between three unknown phone numbers. The source included handwritten notes indicating the names of those sending the text messages, which contained numerous racial slurs and derogatory comments about students.

The other request was for a list of names, titles, lengths of stay and salaries of all district employees,

According to the letter from Ellison, “a legal review is necessary to determine whether the requested record is a public record subject to access under the Law.”

The letter informed the Daily Local News that the school district needs additional time, beyond the five days usually provided for a response, to review or prepare its response. Ellison wrote that the district would provide a final decision within 30 calendar days.

The response came two days after school board President Neil Campbell said the district could not provide comment on the departure of Como and Donato due to an ongoing criminal investigation conducted by the Chester County District Attorney’s Office.

According to William Wilson, attorney with MacElree Harvey in West Chester, the Right-to-Know Law is a statute that has similarities to the Freedom of Information Act, which allows the public access to federal government records.

“(Right-to-Know) creates a public right of access to records of municipal agencies. But it has its limitations,” he said, adding it is not unusual for a school district to request additional time for requests pertaining to public personnel records.

He said the school district might have to eliminate personal information that might not be a part of public information, such as social security numbers and personal telephone numbers.

Officials in the District Attorney’s Office declined to speak about the situation on the record Wednesday, and officially said they could neither confirm nor deny the existence of any criminal investigation involving the school district.

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