The following was announced as part of the Superintendent Report by Michael J. Martirano to the Howard County Board of Education on May 14th:

MPIA Safeguards: Finally, I want to inform the Board of actions I am taking to safeguard our Maryland Public Information Act process against abuse, while continuing to be responsive to requests under the MPIA law. When I was appointed as Interim Superintendent in May 2017, a palpable distrust in our school system’s processing of PIA requests was widely expressed by many of our stakeholders, from community members to elected officials in Annapolis. One of my first actions was to reform our PIA process, including the implementation of a real-time PIA tracking portal on the school system’s website.

The HCPSS PIA portal, the first of its kind in the region, provides the community with transparency and accountability. I am proud of the initiative. In fiscal year 2018, 461 PIA requests were posted and processed on the portal. In fiscal year 2019, there were 222 requests, and there have been 389 requests posted so far this year. In my opinion, these numbers demonstrate that the PIA portal has served our community well.

Unfortunately, over time some people have taken advantage of the transparency of the PIA portal, not to reveal information about the operations of the school system, as intended, but instead to attempt to discredit public employees and elected officials. The school system has received correspondence couched as PIA requests from anonymous requesters and fictitious requesters. Typically, these requests attempt to use our public portal as a tool to discredit individuals.

I am appalled that some have attempted to use a process – purposely implemented to provide this community with unsurpassed transparency – to wage personal attacks and to weaponize this process. No other school system in Maryland has implemented a PIA public portal, and I can assure you that this kind of abuse would be a discouraging factor to those deciding whether to create one. That is a shame, considering the public benefit of the portal, but it is a reality.

I am committed to the public transparency and accountability that the PIA portal provides to the Howard County community. But reforms in our processing are needed. To address the abuse we are witnessing, I have directed staff to institute protocols to safeguard our PIA portal against malicious use. These measures include software filtering to block spoofing and fictitious email addresses, as well as process changes in recording the identity of requesters. I hope that these measures, along with the restatement of the purpose behind the PIA portal, will return us to a process that is a source of only pride.

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You can read the full Superintendent Report to the Howard County Board of Education here:  https://go.boarddocs.com/mabe/hcpssmd/Board.nsf/files/BPLTFF7725D4/$file/05%2014%202020%20Superintendent’s%20Report.pdf

You can watch the video of the meeting here:  https://hcpsstv.new.swagit.com/videos/61879#

Scott E

1 COMMENT

  1. Yes. I am also appalled. Many MPIA requests are denied by HCPSS on a misinterpretation, or at least a narrow interpretation, of the law. If a request requires a search query, HCPSS incorrectly interprets the request as requiring “programming” or “generating new data” or a “summarization.” Summarization or analysis refers to creating a paragraph like passage, not the function SUM (). Applying a query such as, SELECT SUM(scores) from STUDENT, or SELECT AVG(scores) from STUDENT, or SELECT STDDEV(scores) from STUDENT is not generating new data nor generating a new record as HCPSS contends. Porting the extracted data to excel is also a reasonable request, yet is often denied using the same or similar justification. I’ve currently found 39 such MPIA requests. just for comparison, exactly how many and which MPIA requests were “weaponized”?

    I’ve made a list of bogus denials and related case law/guidance here: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1JV8IKULwIpeG823z7JzzS-n-RT9SFlEyHcnNRFZbvNY/edit?usp=sharing

    Of course, I could be wrong.

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