No charges will be filed against the Madison, Wis., School District in the deletion of eMail messages related to the school board’s Oct. 8 decision on the Pledge of Allegiance, the Dane County district attorney says.
“I see no basis to believe that any records were intentionally destroyed in response to a records request, or even to hide their existence from the public in advance of a request,” Brian Blanchard said Nov. 7.
The board voted Oct. 8 to bar group recitations of the pledge in district schools, but later reversed itself after a wave of protest.
The new policy allows public schools to choose either the pledge or the national anthem to comply with a new state law that requires public schools to give students the opportunity to say the pledge or hear the national anthem each day. The board initially directed schools to play only an instrumental version of the anthem rather than to allow students to recite the pledge.
The eMail issue surfaced when Republican fund-raiser Phil Prange requested copies of eMail messages on the controversy but was told most had been deleted.
Blanchard said about 18,000 eMail messages in the district’s “public comment mailbox” were deleted by district employees after the volume prevented the district’s computer from being able to receive new messages.
The district did not then have the option of saving those messages, he said, but it has since installed a recordable CD-ROM drive capable of preserving them.
Prange said he understands Blanchard’s decision but that, “I continue to be extraordinarily disappointed by the destruction of these records.”
State law mandates that public agencies retain eMail messages for at least seven years, unless granted an exception by the state Public Records Board.
The district had no such exception. Blanchard said that, although destruction of the records was technically a violation of law, he thinks the district could easily argue that it faced a difficult situation.
“Under unusual circumstances, you can be privileged to take conduct that would be in violation of the law, as long as it’s in good faith and in the normal conduct of duties,” he said.