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Judge: Pennridge acted “in bad faith,” must release list of removed books


Darren Laustsen says he never wanted to file a lawsuit. But when the Pennridge School District refused to provide a complete record of books removed from the high school library for review under a new learning resource policy, the Perkasie father of two said he felt like he had no other choice.

He suspected someone had doctored records to obscure the fact that certain books had been removed without going through proper procedures.

“My attorney tried to negotiate with the district’s lawyer in October 2022,” Laustsen said. “We wanted to reach an amicable resolution and give the district an opportunity to do the right thing. I simply wanted to know the books pulled for review so that the public would have an opportunity to defend them.”

Earlier this month, a Bucks County judge agreed, saying the district had “acted in bad faith” with regard to Laustsen’s request for information, and then attempted to conceal the deception by manipulating library records. Judge Jordan Yeager ordered the district to provide the information Laustsen requested and to pay his “reasonable” legal costs for the lawsuit.

“The district altered the records that were the subject of the request, thwarted public access to public information, and effectuated a cover-up of faculty, administrators, and other non-students’ removal of books from Pennridge High School’s library shelves,” Yeager wrote. He compared the district’s action to creating a maze, hiding information at the end of the maze, and then claiming “it cannot access the information because it can’t find its way through the maze.”

As of Wednesday morning, Laustsen said the district had not contacted him about providing the information. 

“While it respectfully disagrees with the Court’s conclusion, the District does not intend to appeal the Court’s opinion." said a statement from the district. "It does intend to continue its internal investigation of the provision of the first inaccurate report to the Administration on which it relied.

The statement added that "the Requester" did receive additional reports that were accurate so "the Requester has had the documents to which he was entitled for almost an entire year. While the District does not believe it owes the Requester any additional documents, it is evaluating its ability to create additional reports that may be required by the Court.”

Many of those books that had been checked in and out later showed up in the district’s library “weeding logs,” a process by which resources are removed for reasons ranging from outdated information to condition. In many cases, the same books that had been checked out for over a year were removed from the library for lack of use.

“While I am happy with the ruling, it is ridiculous it required a lawsuit,” Laustsen said. “Instead of looking into our concerns about doctored records, Pennridge used taxpayer-funded attorneys to effectuate a coverup. I hope this serves as a lesson and we can do better in the future.”

The saga began in September 2022 when the school board amended its education resources policy to allow for the review and possible removal from libraries books deemed inappropriate due to content. Laustsen was curious about how the process would play out and asked the district for a list of the challenges.

When the district ignored his requests, Laustsen filed a series of Right to Know requests. When the district responded with heavily redacted documents, he appealed to the state Office of Open Records, which upheld the district’s response. Laustsen then filed the lawsuit, which accused the district of “taking affirmative action” to avoid the state’s Right to Know Law and “shielded its censorship from public scrutiny.”

The suit lays out the timeline of events:

● Sept. 21, 2022 — several controversial book titles checked out by faculty accounts with a return date of hundreds of days later.

● Sept. 27, 2022 — school board meeting at which a book review and removal policy is formally adopted.

● Sept. 28, 2022 — Laustsen emails then-Superintendent Dr. David Bolton about the book removal policy and the checked-out books.

● Oct. 19, 2022 — Laustsen files his RTKL Request for non-student checkouts.

● Oct. 26, 2022 — the request is deemed denied because the district does not respond.

● Oct. 27, 2022 — Laustsen files an appeal with the state’s Office of Open Records.

● Oct. 28, 2022 — those controversial books checked out by faculty accounts are checked back into the library. On that same day, those books are checked back out again, this time under student accounts. On that same day, the district responds to the OOR appeal and provides the nonstudent checkout reports, which do not show any of the controversial titles by virtue of their having been moved from faculty accounts to student accounts.

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