According to an Associated Press (AP) article in the San Francisco Chronicle, Davidson County Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman has ruled that the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association (TSSAA) is subject to the state’s Open Records Act. The ruling came in a suit brought by The City Paper against the TSSAA after the athletic association refused to provide records pertaining to a member school, Montgomery Bell Academy, and those pertaining to violations of financial aid rules.
Attorney John Williams, who is representing the newspaper, said Bonnyman’s decision was based on a 2002 opinion by the Tennessee Supreme Court that set a functional equivalency test for private entities that were providing public functions. The newspaper further argued that the U.S. Supreme Court already determined that the TSSAA’s regulatory role could be treated as a state action in another lawsuit between the association and a private high school.
Williams said the ruling set a precedent in the state that could allow more access to the association’s records. However, TSSAA’s attorney, Rick Colbert, said just because the chancellor ruled that the TSSAA was the functional equivalent of a governmental agency, that does not mean that every single record is subject to public disclosure. He said both sides will have to meet again to argue what can be released to respond to the newspaper’s request. “Now that she has answered the threshold question, we have to figure out what it means in regards to the particular request,” he said.
Colbert said the TSSAA cannot appeal until there is a final ruling in the case, but both he and TSSAA Executive Director Bernard Childress said the association likely would challenge the chancellor’s ruling. The TSSAA is involved with a lot of sensitive information surrounding children, financial issues, and schools that should not be made public, Colbert said.
Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 12/10/12, By Kristin M. Hall (AP)
[Editor's Note: The 2001 U.S. Supreme Court decision referred to in the AP report is Brentwood Academy v. TSSAA. In a brief summary of the Court's decision, available only to COSA members, Legal Clips said: "The Court reasoned that because the TSSAA’s membership is overwhelmingly made up of public school officials who control the rulemaking and ministerial functions of the TSSAA, it is so entwined with the state as to make its actions indistinguishable from those of the state board of education." ]