State News

Madison Metropolitan School District faces lawsuit after denying open records requests

Wisconsin Transparency Project joins in a lawsuit against MMSD to defend the anonymity of a person who filed multiple open records requests.

Wisconsin Transparency Project joins in a lawsuit against MMSD to defend the anonymity of a person who filed multiple open records requests.

Image By: Cameron Lane-Flehinger

After the Madison Metropolitan School District denied the release of public records to an anonymous person, the Wisconsin Transparency Project joined in a lawsuit to grant those requests. 

Tom Kamenick, founder of the Wisconsin Transparency Project — a law firm that defends open records law — is working to defend an anonymous person who made 26 requests to MMSD. 

The person made 26 requests through MuckRock.com, a website that allows anyone to make a request for records — but the requests were ignored or they were asked to reveal their identity.

Under Wisconsin state law, records are open for the public to inspect, and the requesting person does not have to identify themselves. However, MMSD denied the release of records arguing the district needed to know the person's identity to ensure if “he or she did not pose a threat,” according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

State law includes exceptions to the rule, such as safety concerns or requirements for identification, but Kamenick believes they are unjustified in this case. 

“If my client has to name themselves in court, they actually lose the right to be anonymous,” Kamenick said. “It would take away their rights.” 

Liz Merfeld, school district spokeswoman, said the district had not received a copy of the suit or made it clear if they would pursue fighting it.

Since the person is identifying themselves as anonymous, Kamenick said the district’s argument is that they are unable to perform a “balancing test” to know whether or not the person is a safety concern. Also, according to the Wisconsin Department of Administration, “overly vague requests may take longer to fulfill and can be denied.” 

Still, Kamenick insists the records requested were “very routine, wide reports” and the court has no reason why his client would create concern for public safety. 

“The records were denied to the anonymous person because of suspicion of violent intent. The law says you cannot deny someone of records if you don’t have proof of violent intent, or if you don’t know their identity,” Kamenick said.

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