For months, parents and county officials have alleged that the Howard County school system under Superintendent Renee Foose's leadership has unlawfully withheld public information from taxpayers.
Now the state public information ombudsman will investigate whether or not this is true, thanks to a bill that Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan signed into law Tuesday morning.
House Bill 1105, which was passed unanimously by the Senate last week and by the House of Delegates in March, requires the ombudsman to investigate the validity of the county school system's refusals to fulfill public information requests from July 1, 2012, when Foose took office, through December 31, 2015.
A report on the findings is due January 1, 2017 to allow enough time for review by the Howard County Delegation before the start of the Maryland General Assembly's legislative session next year.
State Del. Warren Miller proposed House the bill last October in response to allegations by parents that the school system has not released the full version of a report on special education in the county that cost taxpayers $300,000, and also that it had unlawfully refused to turn over school system staff emails pertaining to indoor air quality issues at Glenwood Middle School.
"They want to hide stuff that taxpayers have paid for," said Miller, a Republican from District 9A, at a meeting of the Howard County Delegation in January.
The bill, which had the support of all 12 state senators and delegates from Howard County, will also require the State Public Information Act Compliance Board to review complaints about fees charged by county school officials to cover the cost of fulfilling public information requests. Anyone who is quoted more than $350 to fulfill a public information request may file a complaint.