A Superior Court judge has formally ordered the Lakewood School District to appear in court to respond to a lawsuit over their refusal to release public records relating to their contract with the LSTA which coordinates busing for Lakewood's private schools, FAA News has learned.

It appears that this lawsuit is directly related to efforts to replace the current LSTA with a new busing authority for Lakewood's private schools.

As first reported here on FAA News, the Lakewood School District was recently slammed with a lawsuit alleging non-compliance with an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request for records relating to their contract with the LSTA which coordinates busing for Lakewood's private schools.

The lawsuit is represented by Attorney Larry Loigman.

On September 15th, an OPRA request was submitted to the Lakewood School District seeking numerous records pertaining to their busing contracts with LSTA, including correspondence between District officials and the LSTA as to transportation routes, bidding, schedules, employees; guidelines governing bus providers; complaints regarding student transportation services; audits, and evaluations of the LSTA and the services they provide; correspondence between the School District officials and Township officials as to transportation services and as to formation and organization of the LSTA; and correspondence between School District officials and any state senator or assemblyman as to transportation services for pupils and as to formation and organization of the LSTA.

On September 28th, the School District's Custodian of records responded "See attached link below with some documents you have requested. I have a flash drive for you to pick up that I am unable to email over because the documents are too large. You may come to pick it up before 4 today or anytime from 8-4 tomorrow. Also, we will need a 2-week extension for the remaining documents that you have requested."

The next day, the School District's Custodian of records received a response advising that the request for a two week extension of time was denied.

Under the New Jersey OPRA laws, custodians of records are required to fulfill all requests within 7 business days. The law stipulated that custodians may request an extension of time "if the government record is in storage or archived" provided that the custodian "notifies the requestor in writing, within the 7 business days and provides an anticipated deadline date upon which the records will be provided." The law also stipulates that "the length of the extension must be reasonable under the circumstances."

In response, Attorney Loigman recently filed a lawsuit in Ocean County Superior Court alleging that the School District's Custodian "failed, refused and neglected to provide access to some or all of the government records or records requested within the time provided for by OPRA for a response by the records custodian."

Mr. Loigman specifically charges that "the custodian did not explain why the response would be delayed, and did not provide a certification that he had searched for records which were the subject of the requests", and that "almost none of the records seeked were provided and that attempts to discuss the matter with District officials have led no where."

The lawsuit seeks for a Court Order requiring the Board of Education to "provide access to all of the records immediately, or to identify the records as to which access has been denied, and to justify their refusal to permit access."

The lawsuit also seeks filing costs and fees, including attorney’s fees; as well as for such other and further relief as the Court may deem just and equitable.

Ocean County Superior Court Judge Mark Troncone has now signed an Order to Show Cause, requiring the Board of Education to appear in court "and show cause why an order should not be issued ordering, declaring and adjudging that the records sought by Plaintiff’s requests are government records, and copies of same shall forthwith be delivered to Plaintiff".

The Order to Show Cause hearing was set for Friday, January 6, 2023.

The Order requires the Board of Education to file a written response on the matter by Friday, December 30th, or else "the application will be decided on the papers on the return date and relief may be granted by default".

Once the Board of Education files their response, the Plaintiff must file a written reply by Wednesday, January 4th.

The Court will entertain argument, but not testimony, at the hearing.

The Board of Education had not yet responded to the lawsuit.

It appears that this lawsuit is part of certain efforts to takedown the LSTA.

As previously reported here on FAA News, Jackson Township's former Councilman and current Assemblyman Alex Sauickie has introduced legislation that would alleviate the fiscal and administrative costs for schools districts associated with providing transportation services to nonpublic students - similar to the original LSTA pilot program which expired after 3 years and was not renewed, but with a twist that it would cover all nonpublic school student transportation in Howell, Lakewood, Toms River, Jackson, Brick and Manchester Townships. If this bill is approved, it is quite likely that the Administration will be more regional than "Lakewood-community based" as LSTA currently is.

It appears that the current OPRA request and its lawsuit is connected to Assemblyman Sauickie's efforts to "revamp" the LSTA.

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