Judge orders APS to release requested records, pay damages - Albuquerque Journal

Judge orders APS to release requested records, pay damages

APS Headquarters. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

A judge has ordered Albuquerque Public Schools to turn over information requested under the state’s public records law or appear in court Feb. 2 to contest the order.

District Judge Lisa Chavez Ortega also ordered APS to pay up to $100 in damages for each day the district failed to respond.

Parent Michelle Jenson of Rio Rancho filed a petition earlier this month in 2nd Judicial District Court alleging that she received no responses from APS to three requests she made under the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act, or IPRA.

The law gives the public the right to inspect records of state and local entities on written request, with certain exceptions. If access can’t be provided within three business days, the agency must send a letter explaining when the records will be available. But the records must be provided within 15 days unless the request is determined to be excessively broad and burdensome.

APS spokeswoman Monica Armenta said the district doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

Chavez Ortega wrote in her Jan. 12 order that Jenson “never received a response from APS providing the responsive records or explaining the status of any of (Jenson’s) three IPRA requests.”

The judge also cited a letter written last year by the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office in response to a complaint filed by Jenson against APS.

Assistant Attorney General John Kreienkamp sent the letter dated July 20 to APS Superintendant Scott Elder.

Jenson “received no records or information whatsoever, in what appear to be obvious and flagrant violations of IPRA,” Kreienkamp wrote. “Presently, whatever process (APS) has in place simply does not function and must be fixed immediately,” Kreienkamp said of APS’s response to records requests.

Chavez Ortega also noted in her order that “APS has not communicated with (Jenson) at all” since the Attorney General’s office wrote the letter.

Jenson, whose son attends an APS school, filed the petition against APS and John Rodriguez, the district’s records custodian.

Jenson sent a similar public records request to Rio Rancho Public Schools in December 2020 and received a response within a week that largely complied with the request, according to the petition.

Daniel Yohalem, Jenson’s attorney, said the case is a clear-cut example of APS ignoring a lawful public records request.

“Ms. Jenson was incredibly patient,” Yohalem said Wednesday. “She kept writing to them, asking them to respond. The Attorney General wrote an opinion saying, ‘you guys are totally violating the law, you better get on it’.”

APS officials “are just failing to do anything they are required to do,” Yohalem said.

APS has faced previous complaints for failure to produce public records.

A judge last year ordered APS to pay the Journal and KOB-TV more than $400,000 and nearly $215,000 for attorney fees and costs for failing to provide records and missing deadlines related to the departure of former Superintendent Winston Brooks.

In the recent case, Jenson made the three public records requests to APS by email between December 2020 and July 2021, according to her petition.

The requests seek data pertaining to students’ progress in school, including the number of registered students, how many had withdrawn, were home schooled, transferred out of state, or had dropped out.

The requests also sought information about the number of failing grades reported for middle and high school students through several semesters.

Jenson also sent an email to Elder in January 2021 explaining that she had received no responses to two previous public records requests and alerting him that she had filed a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office.

Editor’s note: Michelle Jenson’s last name was misspelled in some references in an earlier version of this article.

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