Friday November 9, 2012

MONTPELIER -- A school district said Thursday it’s going to turn over to a Benson parent a letter from a mental health professional that claimed the parent could pose a threat to school officials.

The decision by the district, the Rutland-Addison Supervisory Union, followed a ruling by a state Superior Court judge that dismissed a lawsuit the district filed against Marcel Cyr, who has a daughter. Cyr had filed a formal request for the letter, which the district used before seeking a no-trespass order against him in March.

In a decision dated Tuesday, Rutland County Superior Court Judge William Cohen said that allowing the district to proceed with its case against Cyr would "subvert the statutory framework" of the state’s Public Records Act.

In court papers, the district, which includes five elementary schools and one high school, said the sender of the letter had asked that it be kept confidential and the lawsuit was part of an effort to get legal guidance about the best way to proceed.

"We wanted help in better understanding if we should release a letter to the public from a mental health care provider where the letter warned that a parent presented a risk of harm and the person requesting the letter was that parent," schools Superintendent Ronald Ryan said.

The district had "no desire" for more litigation and believed it had done what was necessary "to balance the interests of safety and those of public transparency," Ryan said.


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Allen Gilbert, executive director of the Vermont chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which helped Cyr with his public records case, described Cyr as an occasional critic of decisions made by the school district.

Ryan declined to describe the nature of any disputes between Cyr and the school district, which is based in Fair Haven, just south of Cyr’s hometown and 85 miles southwest of Montpelier.

According to the district’s lawsuit, last March, Ryan received a letter from the unnamed mental health professional, written under a professional’s duty to warn of "serious clinical concerns about a potentially dangerous situation for (district) employees" and a "clinical opinion this is a serious threat" posed by "escalating hostility" on the part of Cyr, referred to in the filing as John Doe.

The notice said the order could be rescinded if Cyr underwent and passed a mental health risk assessment that would be paid for by the district.

Afterward, Cyr made an official request for that document under the state Public Records Act.

The district initially asked for more time but later filed suit against Cyr, arguing his request met an exemption to the public records law in the same way that attorney-client or doctor-patient communication is exempt.

The judge refused.

Gilbert, the ACLU official, said the school district’s position would have been a major threat to open government.

"The school’s strategy would place concerned citizens and news organizations at the potential peril of having to hire a lawyer and defend themselves every time they make a public records request," Gilbert said. "We’re glad that the superior court put a stop to it."