School newspaper sues school district in wake of alleged racial attack

[The post has been updated to reflect that the editors as individuals are no longer named as plaintiffs in the case]

The students who run the school’s newspaper and news website at St. Louis Park High School are making a stand for their right to data they say they need to tell the story of a November incident in which a senior boy allegedly pulled a hijab off another student.

Specifically, the newspaperis suing over access to security footage the school district may have of the incident, the website The Echo reports.

The suit, filed on Wednesday by the newspaper’s two editors, says the district is violating the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act by withholding video of the incident, which occurred in the aftermath of November’s election of Donald Trump as president.

The journalists submitted requests for the material but say in the suit they received only two heavily redacted documents in response.

The Echo, which is a student-run newspaper, needs to review the security footage for the purposes of news coverage. The Echo is seeking the truth about the incident, which involves troubling allegations of race and religious-based bullying. This is an especially important news topic for The Echo and the community, given the continued rumor and speculation surrounding the incident as well as the broader national concern over racial and ethnic tensions in schools following the 2016 presidential election.

The suit says school officials have refused to meet with the reporters over their request.

It says the students involved in the alleged incident participated in a mediation session in which the senior boy, accompanied by his football coach, denied the allegations. “During the ‘mediation,’ the freshman student did not have the opportunity to have anyone speak on her behalf, and was not allowed to object to the football coach’s presence on the senior student’s behalf,” the document said.

The security footage was not shown during the mediation session.

The students are represented in their suit by the Robins Kaplan law firm.

A spokesperson for the school department promises a statement later today.

[Update 4:40 p.m.] – Here is the school system’s response:

The Echo’s lawsuit seeks access to hallway video and the contents of emails that contain private personally identifiable information related to St. Louis Park Public Schools students.

The Echo believes that it is entitled to this information because they deem it “newsworthy,” and relies solely upon general provisions in State law providing that government records are accessible to the public. However, other provisions in State and federal law that are not addressed by The Echo specifically govern personally identifiable information related to public school students and classify that information as private and, therefore, not accessible to the public. That the information may be “newsworthy” does not change this fact. Additionally, the claim that school buildings are public spaces is directly contradicted by State law and our School Board Policies.

St. Louis Park Public Schools has a responsibility to comply with the laws relating to student information and to protect personally identifiable information related to our students. We take that responsibility seriously. The school district clearly informed The Echo of our responsibility under the applicable law and fulfilled our responsibility when we advised The Echo that the information they requested was not accessible to them.