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Wirt County superintendent defends FOIA fee

ELIZABETH, W.Va. — The superintendent of Wirt County Schools said it is not unreasonable to charge a fee to process Freedom of Information Act requests as it can require personnel to put in additional time beyond the normal workday to do it.

A proposal the Wirt County Board of Education is considering would charge $20 an hour past an initial 15-minute period on FOIA requests.

The state Supreme Court ruled in April that state agencies can charge hourly fees to fulfill requests for public documents filed through FOIA.

Those against the proposed policy in Wirt County have said it was an attempt to discourage citizens from requesting and obtaining public records because of having to pay the $20 an hour fee as well as the costs of making copies and any associated postage fees.

They also said no Freedom of Information request can be handled in 15 minutes, indicating the fee would be a given on any request.

School Superintendent Mary Jane Pope-Albin said there are ways to obtain information other than through an FOIA request with a lot of information being made available online at various levels locally and at the state.

”There are other ways to gather this information,” she said. ”There is a lot available on websites that people can look up.”

Wirt County was recently approved for $803,694 in funding from the West Virginia School Building Authority for building projects, with information detailing the project available on the SBA website, Pope-Albin said.

Other details about the educational process, achievement information and more are available online, she added.

”There are a host of different ways that are rather easy and accessible,” she said.

There was nothing in particular that prompted the board to review its public document policy other than it was time in a five-year cycle where officials look at policies in the district to make changes in changing times.

The district has received FOIA requests, including recently for information relating to school athletics, concussions and helmet use in football that was requested by a media outlet.

Since the state Supreme Court made its ruling, Pope-Albin said, the school system is following what was established by the court.

Many times FOIA requests take addional time to process and get ready which could require employees to work additional hours to put it together, she said.

”I don’t think it is prohibitive to charge a fee in order to pay people outside of normal work hours to do this work,” Pope-Albin said. ”I think it is reasonable.”

The public comment period on this policy ended Tuesday.

The next school board meeting is 6 p.m. Jan. 13 at the Wirt County High School cafeteria.

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