Colorado school district destroys emails about student ‘to protect against’ records requests

From the Student Press Law CenterA Colorado school district employee instructed staff to destroy public records “to protect against” open-records requests from a special-education student’s parents, according to emails obtained by the boy’s father.

“Please delete this email when done. . .” begins a December 2010 email sent by Sarah Belleau, Poudre School District’s integrated services director, to a colleague.

“Please ask all involved staff to delete AND destroy any e-mail or paper records related to this family,” Belleau continues. “When they delete the e-mail, they need to then ‘empty the trash’ Please have them do this immediately. All other records with the exception of the latest plan should destroyed – shred. The reason is to protect against an Open Records Request. Thank you for doing this and for verbally and communicating this with staff. I do not want this put in writing.”

Ephraim Starr, who is referenced by name in the email thread, moved from California to Fort Collins, Colo., in 2010 with his wife, Donna, and their son, Isaac, who has autism. Belleau’s email was sent before Isaac had started school at Bacon Elementary in January 2011.

The Starrs filed a public-records request (first through email, then a formal letter) in March of 2011 for their son’s records after they had noticed regressions in Isaac’s behavior, Starr said. They also requested communications between staffers.

When Isaac started school, the district cut “critical services” — extended school-day instruction, for example — from the Individualized Education Plan Isaac had in California, Starr said. School officials insisted everything was going well, he said.

“They … were telling us how great things were going,” Starr said. “What we were observing at home was very different from what they were saying was happening at school.”

Ephraim Starr was unsatisfied with the records initially provided to them a few days after the request, so he prodded further. More than a month later, he was offered more records to review, according to court documents. This only happened after the school purchased software to retrieve deleted emails and later hired a data-retrieval firm, a search that ended up costing the district approximately $47,000, according to the court judgment.

The records revealed that officials were perpetuating a campaign to “delete and destroy” records pertaining to his family, Starr said.

Visit the Student Press Law Center for more.

Subscribe to Our Blog