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Employee Surveys Exempt from Disclosure Under FOIA

In Public Access Opinion 23-002, the Public Access Coordinator (“PAC”) found that a public school did not violate FOIA by partially denying a request for faculty survey results. In September 2022, seven faculty members submitted a FOIA request to the school seeking “written replies/reaction” from a poll that was given at the school. The school partially denied the request pursuant to FOIA Section 7(1)(f), which exempts predecisional and deliberative material from disclosure. The school explained that it issued the survey to receive written feedback from faculty in an effort to determine and formulate future policies and how to better the school.

After reviewing the withheld records, the PAC determined that the survey results contained the opinions and recommendations of faculty and not purely factual information. Additionally, the school explained that it used the survey results as part of the specific pre-decisional deliberative process of evaluating the principal’s performance. The requesters argued that, when it distributed the survey, the school did not disclose that the results were going to be used to evaluate the principal, but the PAC found that it is not necessary under Section 7(1)(f) to provide advance notice of all possible uses of information before using the information as part of the decision-making process.

Prior to this decision, and as explored by the PAC in its finding, no reviewing body in Illinois had found that employee survey results are exempt under Section 7(1)(f), but in issuing this binding opinion, the PAC has confirmed its position that survey results that are used as part of the deliberative process can be exempt under Section 7(1)(f).

Contact Steve Richart or any other attorney in our Board Governance/Corporate practice group with your FOIA inquiries.

Sources: Public Access Opinion 2023-002