By Brian Haas, The Tennessean
A coalition of media outlets will return to court today in an ongoing battle to open records of cases where children died or nearly died while under state supervision.
The Tennessean and a dozen other media outlets are suing the Tennessee Department of Children's Services for access to reports of hundreds of deaths and near-deaths of children who had contact with the state's child welfare system.
DCS has resisted requests to release those documents by claiming some of the records are not public and that it would cost tens of thousands of dollars to produce the ones that are.
In its latest filing, the coalition is asking Davidson County Chancellor Carol McCoy to waive all costs for producing the records, which the state first priced at $55,584 and later reduced to $34,225, claiming that it would require hand delivery of certain records from throughout the state and hours of expensive whiting out of confidential information.
The coalition also is asking the judge to order the release of eight specific computerized forms that detail the investigative steps that go into child welfare investigations. Some of those documents would include information about contact the state had with the child prior to the death or near-death incident.
DCS has filed a response requesting the judge deny the motion, saying that the media isn't entitled to any more records. The agency's response also indicates it is unwilling to budge on requiring media outlets to pay thousands of dollars for the information.
While the agency has argued that records requested by the media are scattered throughout the state, DCS' own staff in a recent meeting acknowledged that the lion's share is available electronically in their central computer system, called TFACTS.
Editor's note: WBIR is part of the coalition of media outlets suing for access to DCS records.