Public Access Opinion 23-002

Employee survey results used for performance evaluation exempt from FOIA disclosure under Sec. 7(1)(f)

Freedom of Information Act - FOIA
Case: Public Access Opinion 23-002
Date: Thursday, January 26, 2023

On September 20, 2022, Requestor submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy (IMSA) seeking copies of the written answers provided in response to the most recent Gallup survey administered at the school and the interpretation of the written responses by IMSA’s Board.

The survey consisted of twelve 5-point scale questions, two Gallup Ladder questions, and three free response questions. The survey was intended to understand how IMSA employees felt about their work and why they felt the way they did. In addition, IMSA used the free response questions (but not the rest of the survey) to evaluate the principal’s performance.

In response to the FOIA request, IMSA released the results of the 5-point scale and ladder questions but withheld the written responses, claiming an exception under Section 7(1)(f). On October 14, 2022, Requestor submitted a Request for Review to the PAC disputing IMSA’s partial denial.

Section 7(1)(f) exempts from disclosure “preliminary drafts, notes, recommendations, memoranda and other records in which opinions are expressed, or policies or actions are formulated.”

On review, the PAC found that the written responses (1) expressed the employees’ opinions and (2) were used in IMSA’s pre-decisional, deliberative process of evaluating the principal’s performance. The PAC held that the written responses were exempt from disclosure pursuant to Section 7(1)(f) of FOIA, and IMSA was not obligated to release the written responses.

This opinion is binding only to the parties involved and may be appealed pursuant to State law.

Michelle Yang, IASB Law Clerk