Ridiculous. That is a perfect way to describe the efforts of Chautauqua school officials to conceal information related to the tragic death of a 16-year-old after a football game last fall.
Instead of obeying the law and releasing the information, school administrators have seized on an arcane point that does not even pertain to the issue at hand. By continuing to flout the law, officials are just drawing more attention to the fact they’re trying to hide something.
School district officials are expending a lot of time, energy and resources to keep hidden information that might actually be of some use, if not to the football player’s family than to parents of athletes.
The death of Damon W. Janes leaves many questions. His parents say he was forced to take the field wearing a substandard helmet and should have been pulled from the game because he was visibly hurt on an earlier play.
These accusations are in a notice of claim, which signals an intent to sue, served on Westfield Academy and Central School by Damon’s parents.
As reported in The News, Damon staggered to the sideline and collapsed during his Westfield/Brocton football team’s lopsided loss at Portville, in Cattaraugus County, on Sept. 13. He died three days later.
Damon’s parents and their lawyer, Dale C. Robbins, of Jamestown, want answers, of course. The Westfield school superintendent refuses to discuss the case. His district managed the football team, which included students from the neighboring Brocton district, including Damon.
Brocton also received a notice of claim related to the death. Westfield provided its copy to The News. Brocton has refused to comply with New York’s Freedom of Information Law.
The News also wanted other documents from Westfield, most notably the district’s video of last season’s football games. Nothing doing, according to district officials, attempting to hide behind the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. That federal law protects a student’s academic records and has nothing to do with video of games watched by thousands of spectators.
Frank D. LoMonte, an attorney and executive director of the Student Press Law Center in Alexandria, Va., said, “The school should be embarrassed to be using FERPA in this way.”
Athletic injuries are a huge topic of concern for schools, parents and students. Information about the devastating injury to Damon should not be kept hidden.
School officials fail to comprehend the importance to Damon’s family and countless others of a full airing of the facts in the case. They should reverse course.