Tyler ISD facing allegations of non-compliance

Executive Director note:
The Tyler Loop remains committed to bringing our readers factual coverage of news events in our community. Maintaining that commitment is a challenge when the news organization becomes part of the news. 

We believe challenging the actions — or non-action — of public entities is important as our role as the public’s watchdog. We will continue to publish information concerning our pursuit of information from Tyler Independent School District officials with the community’s interest as our main concern.

Smith County District Attorney Jacob Putman confirmed last week he is “looking in to” a formal complaint claiming the Tyler Independent School District violated the state’s open records law.

The complaint, filed by Tyler Loop executive officers, alleges school officials failed to respond appropriately to one request for information and ignored at least two others. The Tyler Loop is seeking information concerning the school’s review of certain library books.

The news organization filed a separate complaint with Tyler ISD’s board of trustees asking the governing body to investigate allegations that superintendent Dr. Marty Crawford, the school’s designated public information officer, two assistant superintendents and the district’s public information director, violated school policy. 

“We found it necessary to file complaints because we were repeatedly stymied by every avenue we attempted,” said Jane Neal, executive director of the Tyler Loop, “Tyler Independent School District declares they strive for a positive and open relationship with the media, but this has not been our experience.” 

An attempt to reach board president Wade Washmon for comment on Friday was unsuccessful. He did not return a message left at his office. He responded to a text Sunday evening from The Tyler Loop board chair Neal Katz, who asked him to comment on the complaint.

“Ya’ll should be receiving a response from our attorneys in the very near future concerning this matter,” Washmon said.

Since Dec. 13, a Tyler Loop reporter has filed three separate open records requests with the school’s public information officer Yolonda Moore seeking information about the school’s review of books deemed by some parents and others as unsuitable for young readers.

The material Moore provided in response to a Dec. 13 request did not match the information requested. That request was resubmitted. Two other requests for information were submitted on Jan. 14 and Jan. 16 seeking additional material.

Although Moore acknowledged receiving all those requests, to date the Tyler Loop has not received any responses.

The Texas Public Information Act requires public entities to provide requested material within 10 business days. If the entity does not have the requested material or believes it is exempt from disclosure, the law states the entity must notify the requestor within that time. An exemption claim must be submitted to the Texas Attorney General’s office for review, according to the law.

The complaint filed with the board of trustees names Moore, superintendent Dr. Marty Crawford, assistant superintendents Dr. Christy Hanson and Ron Jones and chief communications officer Jennifer Hines.

Tyler Loop executives are asking trustees to select an impartial official or entity to investigate violations of school policy and to discuss the findings in a joint meeting.

“We are in the business of providing information and data-rich reporting for our readers to help them engage more deeply with the policies and people impacting them locally,” Neal said. “We want access to the information without further difficulty or hindrance. We wish for a fair, legal and open experience when we request information from public servants.”

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Vanessa E. Curry is a journalist with nearly 35 years of experience as a writer, editor and instructor. She earned a B.S. degree in Mass Communication from Illinois State University and a MSIS degree from The University of Texas at Tyler with emphasis on journalism, political science and criminal justice. She has worked newspaper in Marlin, Henderson, Tyler and Jacksonville, Texas as well as in Columbia Tennessee. Vanessa also was a journalism instructor at the UT-Tyler and Tennessee Tech University. Her writing has been recognized by the State Bar of Texas, Texas Associated Press Managing Editors, Dallas Press Club, and Tennessee Press Association. She currently is working on publishing two books: "Lies and Consequences: The Trials of Kerry Max Cook," and "A Gold Medal Man, A biography of Kenneth L. "Tug" Wilson.