The Freedom of Information Law is an instrument of democracy and sometimes, therefore, a pain, and that is the way it should be. Whether or not it is exercised in a particular situation depends on who may be gored by public disclosure.
The city Department of Education availed itself of the law to get its admittedly error-riddled data about teachers released, proclaiming the public interest, but really for the undeclared reason of damaging their reputation and popularizing its campaign of bullying them. Much as they reveled in ripping off the mask of teachers’ privacy because it suited its goals, the agency hid and continues to hide behind a veil of secrecy to avoid incriminating itself.
The Bloomberg administration has broadcast to the world its fantasy of fabulous success as a fixer of public education. It has itemized a list of triumphant “reforms” and revolutionary improvements in many areas. Well, the DOE is not exactly renowned for its gift of introspective analysis. Now a professional organization of educators, the United Federation of Teachers, has filed a FOIL request for the release of DOE data that was used to justify some controversial policies.
Yes, that organization is the teachers union, but do not let your skepticism be activated. After all, the data being sought will speak for itself and be accessible to experts from all quarters. But the DOE gets the jitters when oxygen is applied to its machinations. Last year it kicked and screamed when a FOIL request, after the agency threw monkey-wrenches and land mines in its way, led ultimately to the disclosure of some absurd e-mails pertaining to the ex-mayor’s hand-picked prize of magazine exemplar Cathie Black to be skipper of the system’s 1,700 public schools.
Maybe they misread the act to read the “Freedom from Information Law.” If the DOE is really proud of its legacy under the departed administration, it should welcome and not feel threatened by the public’s consciousness of its sordid mode of operation.
The appointment of the new city schools chancellor gives us solid trust that a fresh and more honorable legacy is just around the corner, ready to be formed.