Tyler ISD responds to complaints through an attorney’s letter

Executive Director's note: As a supporter of fairness in the media, The Tyler Loop is providing the following story about Tyler Independent School District's response to allegations by The Tyler Loop that school officials violated the Texas Public Information Act. The following report does not cover every issue addressed by the school's attorney but focuses on TISD's main points presented in their defense.

Tyler Independent School District employees did not violate the state’s open record law because information requested about a review of certain library books doesn’t exist, the school’s attorney said Monday.

Some of the requests filed by the Tyler Loop asked the district to identify members of a book review committee, its meeting dates and a list of books removed for review. The Tyler Loop officials filed a complaint with the Smith County District Attorney after not receiving the requested information.

“I will note that there are no District records to provide in response to any of these requests for information for one simple reason: no committee has been formed, no instructions have been issued, and no meetings have been held,” Tyler attorney John M. Hardy wrote in a letter to Tyler Loop’s executive director Jane Neal.

Hardy also contends that even if the district has removed some books from the school’s libraries, officials are not required under the Texas Public Information Act to create a list of those books.

The district did provide the Tyler Loop a link to a list created outside the district by state Rep. Matt Krause and sent to “hundreds” of Texas public schools districts, he said. The list includes about 850 titles.

“The District had already provided you with the widely distributed list of allegedly offensive material and is under no obligation to create its own list of which books (from that list or otherwise) are or were on the District’s library shelves,” Hardy said.

The attorney also argued The Tyler Loop’s request for any and all district emails or texts concerning the topic of contested library books or the vetting process is an “enormous” task.

“If you could clarify or narrow the request, that might prove helpful to providing a more prompt response of relevant records,” Hardy suggested.

In his letter, a copy of which was sent to Smith County District Attorney Jacob Putman, Hardy also contends The Tyler Loop improperly filed some requests with the district and inaccurately applied state law in its complaint.

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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.