Judge declines to further redact school flier report

CHEYENNE — Laramie County District Judge Peter Froelicher has denied the Cheyenne school district’s request to further redact a report that investigated bigoted bullying at McCormick Junior High.

The district has 30 days to appeal Monday’s decision, but Laramie County School District 1 Superintendent Boyd Brown said his legal team has not yet committed to a response, one way or the other.

“We’ll make the decision before the end of the 30 days,” Brown said. “We are still concerned that if investigations are not kept confidential we will have some students that may decide not to report and some students that may not be involved in investigations.”

After racist and homophobic flyers were found at the school in March 2019, LCSD1 conducted an internal investigation into both that incident and the larger school climate.

Monday’s ruling is the latest development in a year-long legal case that started after the district refused to fulfill the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s public records request for the report that resulted from the investigation. The district cited individual student privacy concerns under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act as its reason for denying it.

The federal law authorizes public agencies, such as a public school district, to redact certain personal identifying information contained within public records.

In response, the Tribune Eagle’s parent company, APG Media of the Rockies, joined with The Associated Press; Gray Television, which owns KGWN-TV; Townsquare Media, which owns radio station KGAB; and the Wyoming Liberty Group to sue the district for release of the document. They argued that FERPA-applicable information doesn’t necessarily allow the district to withhold the entirety of the report from media outlets or the general public.

In April, Froelicher ruled that the report – with obvious identifying personal information redacted – is considered a public record and should be released to the public. After that ruling, the district’s lawyers argued that the court’s redactions did not go far enough to protect student privacy, and asked the judge to consider further redactions.

The petitioners disputed that claim.

On Monday, Froelicher sided with the media partners and ruled that he will make no further redactions.

“We are gratified that the court refused further redactions,” said Bruce Moats, an attorney representing APG in the case. “The court has carefully balanced student privacy with letting the people know what happened in this situation.”

David Evans, one of the attorneys who represents the district, directed the Tribune Eagle to district officials for comment about any plans to appeal the ruling.

The report will remain sealed during the district’s 30-day appeal window.

“We have no plans to make an immediate declaration,” LCSD1 Board of Trustees Chairwoman Marguerite Herman said Monday. “We may wait until the last minute, we may do something in the middle of it.”