State Supreme Court says PIAA is subject to open-records laws

Wednesday, February 21, 2024 | 8:52 PM

HARRISBURG — The PIAA is a public entity and subject to the Right to Know Law, the state Supreme Court has ruled.

The court’s decision was handed down Wednesday.

More than two years ago, the PIAA asked the state Supreme Court to review a Commonwealth Court decision that ruled the organization is subject to the Right to Know Law.

PIAA attorney Allan Boyton argued before the Commonwealth Court judges in 2022 that the group should not be subject to the open records law.

In a 28-page opinion, the Commonwealth Court upheld the Office of Open Records’ original ruling that the PIAA is subject to the law.

The opinion says the PIAA takes tax dollars and money from 1,431 various public schools and some of the PIAA board members include representatives of member schools.

“Therefore, as PIAA undertakes state action and is funded primarily by public school districts, the General Assembly’s classification of PIAA as a state-affiliated entity for the purpose of qualifying as an agency under the RTKL has a rational basis and furthers a legitimate state interest of transparency in PIAA’s use of public funds in a manner which dramatically impacts students’ lives,” the court ruled.

The state’s Supreme Court opinion stated: “The Supreme Court’s observations are informative in that they bring into focus PIAA’s substantial statewide control and expenditure of funds in connection with a matter of Commonwealth governance.

“PIAA plays a vital role in managing an important aspect of the education of middle- and high-school students in Pennsylvania, and it does so through the use of powers derivative of those attendant to school officials acting in an official capacity as authorized under the Public School Code.

“PIAA fulfills that role ultimately through a board of directors largely consisting of school officials acting in their official capacities. Given this state of affairs, we ultimately conclude PIAA falls within the scope of the phrase ‘Commonwealth entity.’ And because PIAA is a Commonwealth entity, it comprises a ‘state-affiliated entity’ under the first part of the RTKL’s definition of that term without reference to the enumerated list of examples.

“PIAA’s records are therefore public records to the extent they are not exempt from disclosure under Section 708 or protected by a privilege.”

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