The lawsuit brought by Lou Racioppe, the former Verona High School football coach, against the Verona Board of Education is drawing to a close after a new decision in the case by New Jersey’s Government Records Council (GRC).
Racioppe was placed on administrative leave in October 2017 in the middle of the football season. After an investigation of complaints brought against him and assistant football coaches that included surveys of the football team, he was not reinstated.
In August 2018, Racioppe filed a lawsuit against the BOE as a whole and then members John Quattrocchi and Michele Bernardino individually, asserting that the BOE had violated his due process rights in its investigation. A year later, a federal judge ruled that that there was not a federal civil rights issue in Racioppe’s complaint.
Racioppe’s lawyer, Gregory Mascera of Bannon, Rawding, McDonald & Mascera in Verona, also filed an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request to get access to the football team surveys and certain emails about the case that the BOE had declined to turn over. When the BOE declined to provide the OPRA request information on the basis of student privacy, Mascera filed a complaint with the GRC.
Now, the GRC has found that the BOE was correct in its decision to not turn over the student records, but it said that the BOE must pay Mascera’s attorney fees. Mascera provided MyVeronaNJ.com with a copy of the decision, but did not indicated the amount of the fees to be paid.
The BOE’s law firm, Kenney, Gross, Kovats and Parton, hailed the GRC’s decision on student privacy, but not the fees aspect, which it said was based on a technicality. “Ultimately, the GRC found that the documents were legally protected ‘student records’ that could not be disclosed in response to an OPRA request,” the firm said in a statement, “and that the District had acted lawfully in not providing them.” The law firm said it believes that any legal fees awarded will be minimal and said it would “vigorously contest any unreasonable demands.”
“Student safety is the top priority of the Verona Public Schools,” the law firm said. “This decision reaffirms our
commitment to not just physical student safety, but also to safeguarding our students’ information and their privacy rights.”