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Howard County schools launch website for Public Information Act requests

Howard County schools interim superintendent Michael Martirano emphasized the need for transparency at a press conference Friday that formally launched the school system's new Maryland Public Information Act request website.

The website, which has been live since July 1, allows users to submit a request to access school system public records and documents as allowed under Maryland's Public Information Act. Users can also view previously submitted requests and their completion status, which Martirano said is meant to help decrease the number of redundant requests the school system receives.

There have been 12 requests submitted since the site was created, one of which has been completed, 10 are "in progress" and one is "submitted." Names of the requesters are not included on the site, something Martirano said the school system purposefully did so users would not be discouraged from submitting requests.

Danielle Lueking serves as the school system's new senior communications specialist and Maryland Public Information Act representative. Lueking, who was hired this year, is charged with overseeing the review and completion of the requests.

"Our community stakeholders must have confidence in the integrity of our leadership, our decision making and daily operations in order to entrust us with the care and education of children," Martirano said. "I always talk about [transparency] in terms of 'let me show you how we are transparent.'"

The creation of the site is a step forward for the school system, which last year, under former superintendent Renee Foose, was found by Maryland's public access ombudsman to have violated public information law, including illegally denying, or attempting to thwart, requests for information.

In particular, staff denied the existence of a $300,000 study undertaken by District Management Council on special education in Howard schools to two requesters and denied access to the report to two requesters.

Martirano has made a point to "open the doors," as he called it during the press conference Friday, of transparency in the school system. He said it is the best way to create a relationship of trust between residents and the school system.

Maryland law stipulates that an initial response to a request must be made within 10 working days of receipt of the submission, and requests must be fulfilled within 30 days, unless there is an extension granted or the request is denied. The new site does not include the dates when requests are submitted, though it does include the date of completion.

Martirano said he believes the site is the first of its kind at the K-12 level in the area, and that it should be used as a model for other school systems.

"If you truly have the request for transparency and showing that information, why wouldn't we do something like this?" he said. "I firmly believe that every school system in America should begin the process of developing something very similar to this."

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