Judge will read briefs before ruling whether Fox Chapel superintendent's dissertation is public

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An Allegheny County Common Pleas judge wants the two sides fighting over whether the doctoral dissertation of the Fox Chapel Area School District superintendent is a public record to submit briefs on the issue before he issues a ruling.

Anne Stephens is scheduled to retire in December.

Patricia Weaver, who lives in the district, asked review Ms. Stephens' dissertation in June after she learned that the superintendent's doctoral degree was issued by LaSalle University in Mandeville, La. The unaccredited school was raided in 1996 by the FBI, which alleged it was a diploma mill.

The founder pleaded guilty to fraud and tax evasion.

After Ms. Weaver's request was denied, she appealed to the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records, which ruled that the district did not provide sufficient evidence to show it was not in possession of the dissertation.

School solicitor Paul Giuffre filed a petition for review of the ruling in Common Pleas Court, which was heard this morning by Judge Terrence O'Brien.

Ms. Weaver argued that Ms. Stephens is a public figure, and that as such she should be required to share her dissertation.

Earlier this week, Ms. Stephens allowed a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter to review the document, which included a 43-page paper and a 140-page manual for school administrators.

Ms. Weaver told Judge O'Brien that some school board members have read it and Ms. Stephens showed it to the reporter in her district office.

Therefore, she argued, the public has a right to review it.

"Taxpayers have the right to verify her claim," she said. "If the institution is a fraud, it's possible the degree is a fraud."

And if that's the case, that means that Ms. Stephens does not meet the posted job qualifications to be Fox Chapel's superintendent.

But Judge O'Brien stopped Ms. Weaver.

"This isn't really relevant to the issue," he said. "Regardless of the quality of the university the superintendent attended, the issue is whether the school district possesses the dissertation."

Mr. Giuffre said it does not.

"The question is, who has the custody, possession and control of it?" Mr. Giuffre asked. "The district never had possession of it at the time of the hire. The fact she brought it on district property at some time does not make it a public record under the Right to Know Law."

education - breaking - region - neigh_north

Paula Reed Ward: pward@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2620. Twitter: @PaulaReedWard. First Published October 8, 2013 8:51 PM


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