NECHES, Texas (KETK) — Neches ISD is fighting a Texas Attorney General’s Office ruling requiring it to turn over records pertaining to Kimberlyn Snider, the district’s elementary school principal under felony indictment.
The district has filed a lawsuit asking a state judge in Austin to stop it from having to release records being sought by Change for Neches, a community group represented by Kaitlin Scroggins.
“The district is seeking a declaratory judgment (from the judge) that the information is exempt from disclosure under the Texas Public Information Act,” according to the letter sent to Scroggins by Kendra Walters, the district’s legal counsel.
By filing the suit, the district is challenging the AG’s Office open records ruling. It is the latest attempt by the district to keep records pertaining to Kimberlyn Snider private.
LEGAL, PROFESSIONAL PROBLEMS
On Feb. 3, an Anderson County grand jury indicted Snider on the felony charge of tampering/fabricating physical evidence with intent to impair and five counts of official oppression, a misdemeanor crime.
She turned herself in to sheriff’s deputies and was booked into Anderson County Jail before posting bail and returning to her job as principal.
Anderson County Sheriff Rudy Flores has said his department had evidence brought to a grand jury accusing Snider of interfering with its investigation that a minor had been sexually abused. The sheriff’s office said the focus of the investigation was not a student at Neches Elementary School.
Scroggins began an online petition calling for Snider to resign until her legal issues could be resolved. Nearly 700 people have signed the petition.
During a Neches ISD board meeting following Snider’s indictment, some defended her as a caring educator who has the best interest of students; others complained she sometimes bullies students and should be placed on administrative leave.
At the same meeting, Neches Superintendent Randy Snider — who is the husband of Kimberlyn Snider — announced he had decided to keep his wife on the job. School board president Van Brown read a letter saying the school board supported Randy Snider’s decision.
Randy Snider has since resigned from his post. He is serving until the end of June.
Kimberlyn Snider is also the focus of an investigation by the Texas Education Agency. A TEA media relations representative told KETK News that it has received dozens of complaints against Snider.
During a school board meeting last month, Brown said the district is spending a great deal of money trying to comply with Public Information Act requests for documents submitted by Change for Neches and others.
Snider has pleaded not guilty to the felony and misdemeanor charges against her.
During a pretrial hearing in May, Snider’s attorney filed a motion to have charges against her quashed. A court hearing is set for 9 a.m. June 25 for 87th Judicial District Court Deborah Oakes Evans in Palestine to consider a motion to have charges against Snider thrown out.
NECHES ISD FIGHTS RECORDS REQUEST
In March, Change for Neches, a group largely made up of parents of students in Neches ISD, submitted a request through the Texas Public Information Act seeking copies of records that the district was supposed to file with Texas Education and Agency and/or the State Board of Educator Certification notifying the agencies that Snider had been indicted.
The records would show whether the district complied with state law requiring it to notify the SBEC in a timely manner of an educator’s arrest.
The district asked the Texas Attorney’s General Office for an opinion on whether it had to release any of the records or could release records with some of the information redacted.
In its appeal to the AG, the district said it believed it did not have to turn over the records because they were part of ongoing investigations and held sensitive and private information.
The district cited a portion of the Texas Government Code that prevents the disclosure of information “relating to litigation of civil or criminal nature,” show the documents obtained by KETK News.
“The documents … pertain to an open investigation being conducted by the State Board for Educator Certification. On March 4, 2021, Superintendent of Schools, Randy Snider, was informed that the Educator Investigations Division of SBEC has opened a case file to review and investigate allegations against certified educator Kimberlyn Snyder,” says the district’s appeal.
The district argued that the records contain “information considered to be confidential by law” including the alleged sexual assault victim in the sheriff’s office investigation.
According to the appeal, the record of Superintendent Randy Snider’s report to the State Board of Educator Certification advising the board of his wife’s arrest details “events that transpired” and includes references that “tends to identify the victim of the assault. … Similarly, an enclosure within the report is a statement from Mrs. Snider that includes references to the alleged sexual assault victim.”
It says that because the documents have “information relating to an alleged sexual assault, including the location of the assault and the identity of the alleged victim, it is likely that the release would be highly objectionable to a reasonable person and therefor exempt from disclosure.”
The district argues the state exempts from disclosure information that identifies “informers who have furnished a report of another person’s possible violation of criminal, civil or regulatory law to the school district or the proper regulatory enforcement authority.”
It notes that the records requested identify by name a district “employee/grievant” who was an “informer” with reference to the alleged sexual assault.
The district also requested that it not be required to release private information about Mrs. Snider, such as her driver’s license number.
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL’S RESPONSE
The Attorney General’s Office, in a letter to the Neches ISD attorney dated May 25, stated some information the district wants to withhold meets the legal threshold for non-disclosure.
The state agreed that the district can withhold all information that could possibly identify the alleged victim in the sexual assault case. It said the district could withhold personal information about Mrs. Snider and information about the “informer.” However it had to release other information.
A clerk in Judge Amy Clark Meachum’s 201st District Court said Tuesday said that a hearing on the civil suit filed by Neches ISD has yet to be scheduled.
The judge will consider the merits of the legal arguments by the district and the attorney general’s office in making a decision on what, if any, information the district will have to release to comply with the Freedom on Information request.