Herald and Journal, March 2, 1998

HLWW responds to KARE questions

The Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted (HLWW) School District has decided to respond only in writing to all media requests for information regarding the pending lawsuit by Allen and Kathleen Baldwin.

The lawsuit seeks to recover attorney's fees from a previous lawsuit pertaining to court documents the Baldwins wanted from the school district regarding their son, Brian.

KARE-TV (channel 11) of the Twin Cities has been working on a news report about the situation. It is scheduled to air Tuesday, March 3.

Lawyer Patrick Flynn of Knutson, Flynn, Deans, and Olsen responded to several questions from KARE 11 investigative reporter Rick Kupchella on behalf of the school district.

Data practice issues

Are there any pending data practice issues related to the Baldwin case? If so, what are they based on?

Mr. and Mrs. Baldwin have been provided all information requested pursuant to the Oct. 9, 1997 order of the Wright County District Court. Mr. and Mrs. Baldwin appealed the district court's order denying their request for an award of attorney fees and costs.

This appeal is currently pending before the Minnesota Court of Appeals. The school district is unaware of any other pending data practices issues between the school district and Mr. and Mrs. Baldwin.

Why letter was sent

Why did the superintendent and school board chair send a letter to the family within hours of discovery of the child's body, ordering the family to stay off school property and away from its personnel? The letter alludes to "threats." Please be specific.

The school district's correspondence to Mr. and Mrs. Baldwin to which you refer was precipitated by a number of volatile communications between Mr. and Mrs. Baldwin and school district officials.

The various incidents are referenced in the documents provided to Mr. and Mrs. Baldwin pursuant to court order. It is our understanding that you have in your possession a copy of these documents.

The threatening and intimidating behavior of the Baldwins included physical threats and in one instance, a physical confrontation directed by Mr. Baldwin against Superintendent Hoheisel and Principal Jackson.

For example, during one meeting with school district officials outside of the school building, Mr. Baldwin screamed numerous obscenities at Principal David Jackson and Superintendent Riley Hoheisel, blamed them for the disappearance of his son, and grabbed and/or pushed both Superintendent Hoheisel and Principal Jackson.

When Mrs. Baldwin arrived at this meeting, she rapidly walked toward Principal Jackson, glaring at him and yelling as she approached him, "Jackson, Jackson, is that Mr. Jackson? You're dead!"

A Wright County deputy was called to the scene during this meeting. During this confrontation, the deputy noted that Mr. Baldwin had brought a knife, which was observed in Mr. Baldwin's truck.

Based upon these communications, as well as other threatening and hostile statements directed at Principal Jackson, school district officials had very clear cause for concern and had reason to believe that Mr. and Mrs. Baldwin were not acting rationally, and that school district officials were in potential danger of physical harm.

Accordingly, to avoid any further escalation of Mr. and Mrs. Baldwins' hostility toward Principal Jackson and possible violence, the school district delivered the letter you reference.

Based upon the recollection of school district officials, the letter was delivered to the Baldwins on the day following the death.

However, the timing of the letter was dictated by Mr. and Mrs. Baldwin's conduct commencing with the disappearance of their son.

Due to the health and safety interests of all parties, including Mr. and Mrs. Baldwin, the letter needed to be delivered as soon as possible to address this potentially explosive situation.

In addition to the school district officials noted above, several school board members were involved in this issue, as it was of great concern to the school district as well as the community.

They were aware of the interaction that had taken place between Mr. and Mrs. Baldwin and school district officials.

It was the consensus of school district officials, including several school board members, that the issue was so serious that while at the same time attempts were being made to avoid further confrontation with Mr. and Mrs. Baldwin by delivery of the letter, Principal Jackson and his family were advised that they should leave town.

In summary, the actions by the school district, including the delivery of the letter to the Baldwins, was a prudent and well-justified attempt to avoid escalation of an already unfortunate situation.

Costs involved

What is the total dollar value spent by the school board - for all services related to the Baldwin case - dating back to Jan. 7, 1995?

The school district incurred attorney fees and costs related to this matter in the amount of approximately $11,900 which has been billed for services through Dec. 31, 1997. Approximately $400 remains unbilled.

These costs were incurred in consulting with counsel regarding:

Why these actions?

One of the arguments made by the district is that it should not be required to turn over the documents . . . because they're not educational records: "Disclosure of these documents will have no effect on the educational future of Brian Baldwin." {memorandum in support of defendant's motion for judgment on the pleading or, alternatively, summary judgment, page 19, first and second line}

It appears as if the district is using the boy's death as one of the very reasons to disqualify the family from the release of information.

Even if they thought they might have a legal argument here, how is it the school board would be convinced this was the right thing to do?

While you ask only one specific question under question No. 4, there are two issues you raise to which the school district responds as follows:

First, you conclude from a statement made in the school district's pleadings that the school district was using the student's death as a reason for disqualifying the Baldwin family from receiving the documents they requested. The statement to which you refer to is taken out of context of the school district's legal argument.

Mr. and Mrs. Baldwin raised several issues in arguing that they were entitled to these investigative documents.

One argument was that these documents related to disciplinary matters and, thus, educational data related to their son.

This factual assertion was not true.

In defense of this argument, it was the school district's position that the data created was not educational data related to disciplinary action as it was created after the student's death and, therefore, could not have been created for this purpose.

Rather, the data was created in the school district's investigation of events in anticipation of potential litigation.

In determining legal rights and duties under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act, a determination of the data is absolutely necessary.

The unfortunate fact of the student's death was a necessary component in the school district's determination of the nature of the data under the Data Practices Act, as well as defense of its legal position in the Wright County District Court.

Second, you ask "Even if they thought they might have a legal argument here, how is it the school board would be convinced this was the right thing to do?"

As set forth above, the school district received numerous threats from Mr. and Mrs. Baldwin, both related to the personal safety of its officials and related to a possible wrongful death lawsuit.

For these reasons, the school district conducted its own investigation, during which time it created a limited number of documents which the Baldwins sought in their lawsuit.

The school district withheld only eight documents which it created in the course and scope of its investigation.

All other data related to the student had previously been provided to the Baldwins.

The school district did not disclose the eight documents, as they were created based upon the school district's position that this was confidential investigative data collected in response to the threats received from Mr. and Mrs. Baldwin and to protect the school district if litigation were subsequently commenced.

The school district acted to protect the safety of its employees and took appropriate action based upon threats of potential litigation.

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