By Terry Rogers
A recent decision by the Delaware Attorney General’s Office to invalidate a vote by Woodbridge School District Board of Education to release current Milford Superintendent, Dr. Phyllis Kohel, from her contract in Woodbridge, and replace her with Heath Chasanov, who, at the time was Assistant Superintendent, could have ramifications for other school districts. According to the decision issued by Deputy Attorney General Jason Staib, Woodbridge violated several Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requirements.
“Under the Freedom of Information Act, certain procedures must be followed. The biggest issue we found related to accepting the resignation of Dr. Kohel and the hiring of Mr. Chasanov without public input,” Deputy Attorney General Staib explained. In the opinion, the Attorney General’s Office also required Woodbridge School District to implement FOIA training and provide a compliance plan.
“I don’t believe there are any ramifications for Milford School District,” explained Dr. Kohel. “The School Board in Woodbridge will simply comply with the directive from the State and hold another meeting to explain the reasons for my resignation, and, of course, they will have to hold another vote. Heath has done an outstanding job as Superintendent, and I am sure the board will do what needs to be done to validate my resignation and Heath’s confirmation as Superintendent.” Dr. Kohel went on to explain that the law is very specific regarding what can and cannot be discussed in executive session.
“I really do not believe that the decision that Woodbridge violated a FOIA law has any bearing on any other district as long as everyone follows the guidelines for holding executive sessions,” Dr. Kohel continued. However, Deputy Attorney General Staib says that this decision was meant to send a message to all districts in the state.
“More openness is necessary when it comes to contract negotiations, especially when dealing with the Superintendent position,” he explained. “Most of the infractions at Woodbridge were minor. There is a high turnover on school boards, and the members of Woodbridge’s board are not bad people, they just were doing things off the cuff and were unaware of the rules.” Attorney General Staib conceded “no one wants to talk about sensitive issues regarding personnel in public, but we must make school boards more aware of FOIA.”
In an effort to help districts better comply with the Freedom of Information Act, the Attorney General’s Office offers presentations on Open Government/Freedom of Information Act topics. Attorney General Staib suggested that Milford and other districts take advantage of those presentations to confirm that they are following the rules properly.