After refusing to release school letter grade records distributed to Arizona public schools and claiming that no list of all scores existed, the Arizona Department of Education has reversed course and released the school letter grades to media outlets who sought them.
The release of the records comes after ADE and State Board of Education officials urged school district administrators to keep the scores secret, even though those administrators were able to access their schools’ grades and appeal them.
In a September 22 press release, state officials described the records as “embargoed,” though no such legal framework exists.
First Amendment attorney Dan Barr said as long as the records exist, they are subject to Arizona’s public records laws.
“I’ve never seen a public document be embargoed,” Barr said.
On Thursday, ADE security guards forcibly removed an AZCIR reporter from the agency’s Capitol Mall office, told him he was trespassing and threatened to call state police after the reporter asked to inspect the school letter grade records. Arizona’s public records laws explicitly require public records to be made available for inspection during normal business hours.
ADE Director of Communications Dan Godzich said in an email Friday to AZCIR that agency officials wanted to “respect the wishes of the State Board of Education by not releasing to the public the A-F school grades data base (sic) before it was finalized for release on October 9, 2017.”
“Upon conferring with counsel at the State Attorney General’s Office, it has been determined that the A-F grade data base, even though still-a-work (sic) in progress, should be treated as a public record,” Godzich wrote. “Please take into consideration that this is a file still being worked on and the file that will be released on October 9th will have differences.”