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Penn State alum raising funds to open school’s Sandusky records

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — A Penn State alumnus is organizing a drive to fund his legal efforts to obtain records pertaining to the school’s handling of the Jerry Sandusky child-sex scandal and to make the school more transparent and subject to open records laws in the future.

Ryan Bagwell, a 2002 graduate of the university who unsuccessfully ran for a spot on the university’s board of trustees in the wake of the scandal, is calling his effort the “Penn State Sunshine Fund,” the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported Monday.

A university spokeswoman told The Associated Press the school was aware of Bagwell’s announcement, but didn’t have an immediate response.

Bagwell won an appeals court decision that he’s entitled to see communications between Penn State’s board of trustees and one of its members — Ronald Tomalis — who was state secretary of education at the time. The state Office of Open Records has since been reviewing which records Bagwell is entitled to see.

Bagwell appealed when the open records office at first denied his request because Penn State is exempt from Pennsylvania’s Open Records Law. But the appeals court ruled 6-1 that Bagwell was entitled to the records because he sought them from the state Department of Education, and because they involved Tomalis’ work in his official capacity as head of that department.

The court ordered the Office of Open Records to review 155 records still being withheld by the department and the records office has since approved Penn State’s participation in the review.

Bagwell estimates he’s spent $15,000 so far in legal fees and other expenses in his open records fight, and hopes to raise $50,000 for the fund. Its stated goal is to “distribute money for legal and lobbying activities with the goal of eliminating the secrecy that persists at Old Main,” Bagwell said in a statement, referring to the university’s headquarters.

Penn State and three other state-related universities, Pittsburgh, Temple and Lincoln, are exempt from the open records law because they receive only some of their funding from the state. Bagwell hopes to include those schools in a future amendment to the open records law.

Bagwell and others have been critical of the board of trustees’ handling of the Sandusky scandal, which saw the school fire head coach Joe Paterno and agree to NCAA sanctions that include $60 million in fines and the loss of football scholarships, among other penalties.

Three former top university administrators are still awaiting trial on charges they allegedly covered up past child-sex abuse allegations against Sandusky before he was arrested two years ago. Sandusky has since been convicted and sentenced to prison for decades for abusing several boys while still an assistant football coach.