Don’t let the sweet Cajun accent fool you: District 3 BESE Representative Lottie Beebe is a feisty grandmother — and she’s no stranger to fighting the state education powers that be.
A former teacher and current supervisor for the St. Martin Parish School Board, Beebe has been referred to by The Times-Picayune as perhaps “the last voice of opposition” on a state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education that’s widely known for marching lockstep behind the agendas of Gov. Bobby Jindal and state Superintendent of Education John White.
And when The Independent reached out to the freshman BESE rep last week for guidance on the newspaper’s two-week battle with the state Department of Education over sunshine laws the department willfully ignored until the afternoon of May 7, she immediately stepped up to help.
The Independent sent a public records request to LDOE’s public affairs office on April 24, asking for all correspondence the state agency has received from the U.S. Department of Education regarding Louisiana’s No Child Left Behind waiver application. The 26 states seeking relief from the onerous federal NCLB requirements received feedback on their applications from the U.S. Education Department April 17, critiques that came down in the form of a formal letter from the federal government.
This newspaper repeatedly asked for a copy of the feds’ critique letter, a crucial document that spells out both strengths and weaknesses in Louisiana’s alternative plan to improve public education at the state level without the cumbersome federal regulations. The week we sent our initial records request, the state education department did not respond to The Ind’s inquiry until hours after LDOE officials surpassed the 72-hour legal deadline for fulfilling our records request — and only after we threatened to file a formal complaint against LDOE spokeswoman Rene Greer. The response from LDOE was that “there is no final document to release.”
After further review of the state’s public record laws and discussing the issue with a media attorney, The Independent was correct in its conclusion that the document (and there is a document in the state’s possession) does not fall under any of our state’s public record exemptions. The paper also contends that DOE was in violation of state sunshine laws for more than a week; a state agency should have full understanding of its own law books and what the public is entitled to see.
We contacted Beebe the evening of May 3 after LDOE continued to ignore calls and emails from both The Independent and an attorney representing the Louisiana Press Association. Minutes after she received our email, she had this to say to White:
I am writing to make you aware of a public record’s request made by Heather Miller, Staff Writer, the Independent. She has indicated her request has not been acknowledged by your staff. This is unacceptable since there is legislation that addresses public records requests in Louisiana.
Ms. Miller has informed me of the following: The Independent has called and emailed both Rene Greer and John White several times over the past 48 hours to no avail. Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time the department has demonstrated to The Independent a complete disregard for transparency and the public records statutes that all government agencies in Louisiana must abide by.
Consequently, I am making a formal request that you honor Ms. Miller’s request. In fact, I am formally requesting the document outlining the US Department of Education’s response to the [NCLB] Waiver and any deficiencies that were identified in the proposal. As a member of BESE District 3, I believe I am entitled to have my information request acknowledged and this information provided to me as soon as possible. I also believe Ms. Miller’s request should be fulfilled, and at the very least, an explanation offered as to why her request has not yet been addressed.
Should you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Lottie P. Beebe, BESE District 3
“It is disheartening to learn there is a lack of respect for the public records legislation which should be honored for those individuals making requests,” Beebe tells The Ind. “You are not the first to communicate the Louisiana Department of Education’s blatant disregard for public records requests. Mr. White and his staff need to be accountable to the public especially when the law dictates compliance.”
On May 7, four days after Beebe sent the message to White, LDOE posted the contents of the federal feedback letter to the state education department’s website. Visit The Independent’s website, www.theind.com, for more on what the feds had to say about Louisiana’s NCLB waiver application.
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