Champaign County district to pay $15K after WHIO barred from recording

A Champaign County school district has agreed to settle a lawsuit brought by Cox Media Group Ohio after WHIO-TV was prevented from recording video of a public meeting in October.

The Triad Local Schools board of education approved the settlement agreement that will require the district to pay $15,000 to Cox, which also operates the Springfield News-Sun and Dayton Daily News.

RELATED: BETHANY’S STORY: Parent’s say suicide of 11-year-old girl part of bullying epidemic

Cox’s complaint alleged violations of Ohio’s Open Meetings Act for failure to allow WHIO to record a public school board meeting on Oct. 24. WHIO planned to cover the school board meeting after 11-year-old Bethany Thompson had killed herself. Her parents alleged she killed herself because of constant bullying at the district’s middle school.

Community members told Cox Media Group that they planned to voice concerns about bullying at the school and the media outlet wanted to document the meeting.

When the news crew arrived at the board meeting, a reporter and videographer were told cameras wouldn’t be allowed, despite it being a public meeting. The crew was informed by Triad Superintendent Chris Piper that media had to contact the school before the meeting to request permission to bring cameras into the board meeting.

Cox Media Group alleged that was a violation of the Open Meetings Act, a law designed to ensure transparency in government and public entities.

Piper didn’t return a phone message seeking comment on Wednesday.

“We are thrilled with the outcome of this case,” said attorney Erin Rhinehart, who represented Cox. “Our client is committed to ensuring government transparency, and we are hopeful that our efforts here will remind others of the importance of complying with Ohio’s open meetings laws.”

WHIO News Director David Bennallack said WHIO will continue to report the news and fight for public transparency.

“This was a sad story and naturally of great concern to the community,” Bennallack said. “Parents asked us to attend the meeting to ensure that their concerns were being heard, and to record and report on the district’s response. It’s unfortunate that we were forced into litigation to prevent this from happening again, but we trust that this issue is now behind us and that the public will be allowed to see what happens in Triad’s future meetings.”

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