D.C. Watchdog Says IG Mistakenly Redacted Report Revealing Preferential School Admissions

The D.C. Office of Inspector General (OIG) was wrong to cover up details when responding to Freedom of Information Act requests for its report on former chancellor Kaya Henderson's special school admissions for children of high-ranking officials.

The Office of Open Government (OOG), the District’s transparency watchdog, after reviewing a complaint by the Open Government Coalition, told the OIG in an opinion today (21) that it could not rely on privacy protections in the law to justify hundreds of such redactions -- since a full text of the report was already public.

The investigation came to light first in brief notices by the Inspector General to the mayor (early in the year) and the D.C. Council (in April) reporting, with few details, the former chancellor's questionable judgments but no unlawful conduct. To narrow future use of the discretion allowed by law, the mayor tightened the policy and the new chancellor, Antwan Wilson, later abolished such special non-lottery admissions altogether. 

D.C. officials would not release the report, saying the OIG asked that it be closely held as “confidential.” This is not a category of secret records provided in D.C. public records law.

Further news reports in The Washington Post cited a full text of the OIG investigation obtained indirectly (and posted ever since online). The OIG did not deny any of the reports of its contents. Interest heightened, as the parents involved were reportedly senior officials in the D.C. mayor’s office and the White House, yet the OIG still did not release the report. Inquirers were told to make a request under the D.C. Freedom of Information Act.  

A copy finally released to a reporter’s request included 31 pages with over 230 redactions, justified as necessary to protect privacy of those involved, including families, school officials and even the OIG staff investigators involved.

Those redactions have now been ruled out of order in the opinion released today, citing court opinions that records even that might have been exempt in some way "lose their protective cloak" once disclosed and available to the public.

The Office of Open Government issues advisory opinions to D.C. agencies on their responsibilities under the public records law. The opinion is available on their website. It is also linked below. An earlier Coalition blog post on the report is here.