In The Name Of Children, Tennessee Media Stands Up To The State
By John M Disque
A lawsuit against TN Department Of Children has been filed by a coalition of Tennessee media. Leading the charge is The Tennessean - a newspaper based in Nashville. Since September 2012 the paper has requested records regarding the deaths of 31 juveniles, ranging from newborn babies to teens, while in state custody during the first six months of 2012.
The paper was repeatedly denied access to the records and, on December 19, 2012 filed suit.
The base of the lawsuit points to the state’s open records law (Tennessee Public Records Act) and claims DCS is denying the public a chance to determine if DCS is adequately protecting children.
Attorneys for the state claim the media is misinterpreting the law and claims DCS is protecting the privacy of the children but it did not stop the state’s biggest media from moving forward and asking for more transparency. Joining The Tennessean are: the Associated Press, Knoxville News Sentinel, Chattanooga Times Free Press, Memphis’ Commercial Appeal, WSMV-TV, WKRN-TV in Nashville, WBIR-TV in Knoxville, WREG-TV in Memphis, Tennessee Press Association, the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government and the Tennessee Associated Press Broadcasters.
Kate O’Day, DCS Commissioner states, “Child safety is our number one priority, and we must protect the rights of the children and families we work with. The department has made every effort to provide information, open access to meetings, and interviews with staff to what I believe is an unprecedented level while also protecting those rights.”
On January 8, 2013 the claims were heard in a Davidson County Court Room in Nashville. DCS is still resisting and are asking for a delay in court process. They say it will take at least 1,000 hours to get all records together.
Chancellor Carol McCoy said she would review the sample records given to her by DCS and would determine whether the agency is required to release them.