When The Long Arm Of The Law < Public Shaming: DME FOIA Follies

In April 2021, and then again in October 2021, my husband sent an email to the generic email (dme@dc.gov) for the office of the deputy mayor for education (DME). In both emails, my husband requested enrollment data by DCPS boundary for the 2020-21 school year. Previous years’ data had been released publicly—but not for that most recent school year.

He never got a response (and no bounces, either).

In March 2022, DME school planner Jennifer Comey came to C4DC to talk about enrollment in DC’s public schools—and gave a presentation on the decline of DC’s student population.

At the end of March (after that C4DC meeting and ahead of a presentation Comey was slated to give to the Ward 2 education council), I sent Comey an email, requesting enrollment data by boundary not only for SY20-21 but also for SY21-22 as well as the by ward by school enrollment data for both school years. She replied that she would send the data shortly.

Weeks later, when I had not received any of the data, I emailed Comey again at the end of April. In response, she said that it was coming soon and that she was working on quality control.

That was the last I heard about it from Comey.

So I filed a FOIA request with the DME’s office for the data on May 30—which got no response whatsoever.

A month after that, on June 29, the DME’s office sent out one of their EdSights emails, for which I am on their email list. The email was about a new document created by the DME’s office, on birth trends in DC.

But someone goofed with that email, because instead of all the addressees being in the bcc line, their emails were all out in the open—all 445 of them, including personal emails of at least one current council member, a former DME, and other current and former education leaders. Here’s the email with all personal emails deleted (though I think they’re giving the game away a bit by tagging charter school emails as DCPS-CHAR—like, wait until the body’s cold).

Anyhoo, I hit reply all (well, to as many as my email server would allow) and asked the original DME sender (edsight.dme@dc.gov) where my FOIA request was for enrollment by ward and by DCPS boundary for the last 2 school years.

I noted that such data is essential to understanding where students go, which in turn can help schools with recruitment. I added that the data can help the public with informed decisions on new schools like the new Ward 3 high school on MacArthur Boulevard. I noted that such data is exceptionally important in that case, because the mayor and council are asking the public to accept a new $100 million capital expenditure without ensuring that all the physical needs of existing schools are addressed first.

I also noted the fact that my FOIA request was untouched and overdue. With the mayor’s office of FOIA appeals seriously backlogged, I noted that my only alternative might be to go to DC superior court and sue (which is actually anyone’s prerogative per DC law when agencies blow off FOIA requests—who knew?).

Well, that email elicited a swift response from the DME himself the next day, on June 30. Here it is:

“Thank you for your outreach on this. Respectfully, my team has indicated to you that the data files were being prepared (which they are), and I can share that we expect to provide them and post them publicly within the next couple of weeks when they are finalized.

“We greatly appreciate your and others’ attention to this kind of data – which is why my office remains so committed to transparency and to providing on our website a wealth of data on public schools, data which we strive to update annually and which we (and others) use to inform planning and decision-making.

“We have also received your FOIA request, and I apologize for any delay in responding. You will shortly hear from us on that request directly.”

Almost two weeks later, the DME’s office released enrollment data by boundary, including for the last two school years.

But not enrollment by ward.

And (naturally) I have received no response to my FOIA request.

That said, just the other week, completely by happenstance, I obtained that by ward by school enrollment data from a DC council staff member, who sent me a link to a file with it as well as the original file. That data had been provided to the council in March, by the office of the state superintendent of education (OSSE), after council oversight hearings. But other than the link and file the council staffer sent me (which are linked above), this data is not available publicly anywhere that I can find.

Naturally, the DME has oversight of OSSE.

So we have a DME who not only violated FOIA law without consequence (or, apparently, conscience except inasmuch as my email reply embarrassed his office), but doesn’t seem to have awareness that an agency his own office has oversight of (OSSE) had already provided the requested data, such that anyone in the DME’s office could (and should!) have hit reply to my emails and sent it to me back when I first requested it.

In fact, the only reason I didn’t end up in superior court suing for what was promised me and was legally overdue (not to mention available–for months!) was because of happenstance and an email goof that contained lots of public officials whose presence seemed the only viable prod for ANY response from the DME to public inquiry.

Any way you cut it, it’s not a good look for democracy.

(And just think: we got 4 more years of this.)

One thought on “When The Long Arm Of The Law < Public Shaming: DME FOIA Follies

  1. Ahh, the complications of “mayoral control” or how Not to have one single authority to hold accountable–the whole rationale for the Public Education Reform Amendment Act of 2007. In practice, it’s exactly the opposite with the abolishment of the one Board of Education and its replacement with several other agencies and offices that operate in their own separate “silos” which PERAA was also supposed to fix. This fiasco with a request from a taxpaying member of the public and a DCPS parent for information that existed somewhere in this forest of agencies is just one more glaring example of what a complete failure mayoral control has been, and I, for one, am not looking forward to four more years it!

    Liked by 1 person

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