Pennsylvania Court: School District Can Appeal Newspaper Access Ruling

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed itself and will let a school district appeal a case involving a newspaper’s bid for information in a lawsuit settlement.

Last week’s decision reverses the court’s December ruling, which denied the appeal because the New Castle Area School District filed its paperwork four days late.

The district’s solicitor, Charles Sapienza, argued he had mailed the appeal a day before it was due. The court’s deputy prothonotary confirmed that, so the appeal was allowed, Sapienza said.

The district is appealing a November ruling by Commonwealth Court that it engaged in “wanton and willful disregard” for the right of the New Castle News to find out how much money three students received in a legal settlement over the school dress code.

The Commonwealth Court also affirmed that the district must pay the newspaper’s legal fees of $8,820.

The district is appealing on the grounds that Commonwealth Court unreasonably interpreted the law.

Three students, through their parents or guardians, filed two federal civil-rights lawsuits against the district in September 2004. They claimed their free-speech rights were violated when they were suspended for wearing unapproved patches on their school uniforms.

A settlement was negotiated in April 2005, but the district insisted that it include a confidentiality provision.

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