QUEEN CREEK — The Queen Creek Unified School District is being sued for refusing to comply with a public records request.
The plaintiff, Patrick Camunez, filed a records request and was denied access to employment climate surveys given to staff. The plaintiff also requested complaints related to Queen Creek Elementary School Principal Julie Oster; Erika Copeland, executive director of K-12 Educational Services; and Patty Rogers Director of human resources.
Camunez’s children attend the school and his wife works there as a teacher.
“It’s not my preferred method of doing this. I’m cognizant that my wife is an employee here, and all of a sudden this will probably paint a target on her back from which retaliation is more than likely to occur,” Camunez said. “But as a parent and a citizen, you can’t let government say, ‘I’m not going to give that to you, or even just I’ll give it to you when I feel like it.’”
Camunez said that his occupation in employment law is known in the community and that people began contacting him with complaints regarding the work environment and administration that were not appropriately being addressed by human resources around the time that Oster took over as principal in the 2016-17 school year.
“The contacts and complaints were stacking up dramatically, so much so where it is odd for an organization to have that many complaints against an administration,” Camunez said.
When he first filed the request, Camunez said he was told that the surveys didn’t exist, then that they didn’t have to release them, and then finally — with more pressure from Camunez — that they would release them to him at a later date in April so that the district could control the message.
Camunez did not think the time frame was reasonable per public records law, and wanted an “unfiltered message.”
He decided to file suit.
This is not the first time the district has been accused of refusing to release employment climate survey reports.
Mark Linder tried to request the surveys when he served on the school board, both through the board and as a public records request, and was denied on both fronts. He requested them because he was concerned about the high turnover rate at Queen Creek Middle School, saying that over a three-year span there was an annual turnover rate of 35 percent, with more than 100 employees total leaving across the three years.
Linder said that despite this, administrators consistently said that teachers were happy with the work environment.
“Well if they have a 35-percent turnover rate, things aren’t great,” Linder said. “There is a teacher shortage right now. I thought we needed to be doing whatever we could to take care of our staff.”
When talking with staff, Linder became concerned that employment climate was not a healthy one. He hoped the surveys could either confirm or deny his suspicions.
“I think that’s what they were trying to hide,” he said. “If there weren’t any issues with climate, then they would have been more forthcoming with the surveys.”
Linder couldn’t get support on the board to push harder for the surveys, and he didn’t want to file suit against the district, so he let it go.
Camunez has no qualms about filing suit. He is confident the law is on his side.
“There is no private data there. I just don’t see why they would fight giving it up knowing it is going to cost the district money,” Camunez said. “I explained to them, the odds are I’m probably going to win this and I don’t know why you would go into this suit.”
The district declined to comment on the lawsuit.