Adamstown man wins long school records battle -- Gazette.Net


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Adamstown resident Jerry Jongerius was not satisfied when Frederick County Public Schools declined to turn over math testing documents he requested four years ago, so he went to court.

Now, after the Maryland Court of Special Appeals agreed with him, Frederick County Circuit Judge Julie R. Stevenson Solt on March 13 ordered the school system to release the documents.

The school system has until Saturday to appeal, but does not plan to, officials said.

“We certainly respect the court’s ruling. We’re happy to comply with the court’s ruling,” Frederick County Public Schools spokesman Michael Doerrer said. “More broadly, FCPS is always committed to openness and transparency. That is our default position.”

For Jongerius, it was a long time coming. He filed the request for the documents in 2009 under the Maryland Public Information Act.

Jongerius was concerned about the school system using TERC Math, a program that proved so unpopular with many parents that it was one of the reasons a new school board was swept into office.

But Jongerius, who has two daughters in the school system, already has seen seven of the 46 documents because they were publicly available on the school system’s website before they were moved behind a password-protected part of the site. Those documents included general statements about math and teaching.

After initially being denied the documents, he filed a petition in Frederick County Circuit Court, but that was denied in 2011 by Solt, who sided with the school system that the documents would reveal private test information.

He then appealed that decision to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, which ruled in his favor that Solt and the school system had erred.

In the opinion issued by the Court of Special Appeals, the judges concluded that the record “reveals no valid grounds — other than FCPS’s discredited and over-broad claims ... to deny appellant’s request for documents,” according to the ruling.

The state’s highest court, the Maryland Court of Appeals, declined the county school system’s request to overturn the lower appeals court decision, and the case was remanded back to Solt, who ordered the school system to comply.

Jongerius, 48, a computer programmer who also owns rental properties, said he should not have been turned down in the first place by the school system. He continued to press the case, even after the elimination of TERC Math, as a way to hold the school system accountable.

Jongerius, who represented himself without an attorney, estimates he has spent “hundreds of hours fighting this.”

He had to research the Maryland public records law and cases, how the court system works, and how to appeal decisions. He estimates he spent about $1,000 on court filings and other expenses.

The school system has had to reimburse him for many of his filing fees at the appellate court.

In the end, however, he doesn’t expect to learn anything from the documents that he hasn’t already found out.

“It’s been a little bit of fun and a lot of work,” Jongerius said.

cford@gazette.net