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The office of Superintendent Barbara Malkas announced Thursday that North Adams Public Schools will reopen remotely following the winter break. 

North Adams Public Schools no longer will share a public records access officer with the city, after facing some confusion in responding to a parent’s request for information on a COVID-19 case.

Superintendent Barbara Malkas says that Business Administrator Carrie Burnett will serve as the point person for district records requests and that the district will provide a clear portal on its website for those requests.

Under Massachusetts law, most state and local government communications, including emails, are considered public record and must be made available to anyone who asks for them, though certain details can be exempted. A records access officer is the person responsible for coordinating requests from the public.

Sharing an officer with the city worked well for many years, Malkas told the School Committee on Tuesday. “But, as we have all learned, it’s really important to have some redundancy,” she said. “And also have maybe some specificity with regards to the school department.”

The process changes come after city and district officials apparently struggled to identify the correct point person for a school records request during Malkas’ recent medical leave.

The request stemmed from the district’s first COVID-19 positive test. North Adams Public Schools announced the positive Oct. 8. Less than two weeks later, Colegrove Park Elementary School parent Joseph Smith, of Adams, made a records request to the city, asking for the name of the school involved in the case.

Smith has a child in the remote cohort, but he told The Eagle he was considering eventually switching to the hybrid learning model and wanted to see whether the school would be transparent about how it handles public health issues.

The city’s records access officer, Jessica Lincourt, forwarded Smith’s request to the school district, which provided emails about the case — with the school name redacted. Malkas said the district withheld the name to protect the family’s identity. The district has provided school names in subsequent cases, she said, because that information did not identify the students involved.

“If I identify a particular program, and if I identify they have a sibling in another school, especially if there’s only one family in a district who has children who meet those specifications, then you can identify the family,” Malkas said.

But, in response to Smith’s request, Lincourt also incorrectly told him that North Adams Public Schools “has its own Records Access Officer,” according to an email shared with The Eagle.

Smith said that he asked multiple district and school officials to tell him who that person was so he could submit a request directly to the district.

Several officials ignored his questions, while others were unable to answer, he said. A School Committee member later told him that Lincourt was, in fact, also acting as the records access officer for the district, according to Smith.

The Secretary of the Commonwealth’s Public Records Division, which handled a later appeal from Smith, told The Eagle that it still had former City Administrator Michael Canales listed as the city’s records access officer, but that it worked with Lincourt on the school records request.

Malkas said the confusion arose, in large part, because she began her medical leave the same day the request came in, and there was no one around who understood how the city and the district had been coordinating those kinds of requests. Previously, she had worked hand in hand with Canales to respond to requests, but Canales left his job with the city in September.

“And the city was like, ‘Oh, Mike was doing that?’” she said. “For whatever reason, people didn’t know that. Part of that was because we just took care of it. Mike was very competent, so, people weren’t really sure of the process by which the work was getting done.”

As a municipal school district, North Adams Public Schools is allowed to share a records access officer with the city. But, Malkas said that the district decided it would be best served by having a separate officer, given a high volume of requests. She added that the district’s legal counsel recommended making the switch.

“The reality is that we were fully compliant. The request was received, and the record was provided within the time [limit set by the state],” said Mayor Thomas Bernard. “But, I do think, through this process and the questioning, it made sense to have a specific point person for school district records because there is a separation in some structural ways between the school district and the city.”

Francesca Paris can be reached at fparis@berkshireeagle.com and 510-207-2535.