Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Little Rock School District sued over refusal to release employee's records

Posted By on Tue, Apr 14, 2015 at 2:33 PM

Matt Campbell, a Little Rock lawyer, said he filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit today against the Little Rock School District for its failure to provide personnel records of Teresa Gordon, a media specialist at Jefferson Elementary.

Gordon, who's a union officer, has been targeted by Interim Superintendent Dexter Suggs along with other teachers over summer enrichment camps they've operated at the school with the principal's permission. Teachers work outside contract time and charge for the courses, but such work has been widely allowed by many teachers at multiple schools. Gordon has written that she was targeted in retaliation for complaining about alleged abuse of leave time by a district administrator.

Gordon asked for a copy of her own personnel records last week.  She and others are in limbo over the investigation of their enrichment work. The district refused, citing an "ongoing investigation." Campbell wrote a letter Monday noting that the FOI law required release of an employee's own records, even if otherwise qualifying for an exemption such as an ongoing investigation. Today, at 12:20 p.m., Campbell said he planned to sue if he did not receive a response. Just before 2 p.m., a Friday law firm lawyer representing the district told Campbell it had received the copy of the records for "review" and would be responsive to the request in "short order."

Too late. Campbell responded to Khayam Eddings:

Due to the lack of any response from Dr. Suggs, including a complete lack of response to my 12:20pm email today, the lawsuit in this matter was filed about 15 minutes ago.

Honestly, considering the records were absolutely subject to release to my client, I am not sure what additional review needed to be handled by your firm. Nor can I conceive of why they waited until today to suddenly have the records reviewed and provided to my client, when they have incorrectly maintained for a week that the records were not subject to release.

Will you accept service on behalf of your client, or shall I have Dr. Suggs served directly?
 
This was a needless waste of time, money and district lawyer expense because Dexter Suggs doesn't think he must answer to anyone anymore. My own experience through non-response or dishonest response to FOI requests has made that clear to me.

The question is whether Education Commissioner Johnny Key cares or plans to do anything about it. If Suggs is a useful tool for the Hutchinson administration's designs to make a lab out of the LRSD, outside democratic control, he may not. Key also has been largely non-responsive to my FOI requests and requests for comment on the mishandling of matters in Little Rock since the state took control. It's an unfolding disaster.

Here's the lawsuit.

PS — Speaking of the kids. It is about the kids, isn't it? Doesn't the Democrat-Gazette editorial page always credit Suggs for this?

I've just heard from a parent of a child at Jefferson School who informed him by voice mail that his after-school tutoring, normally once a week each Tuesday, has ended for the year, to the great disappointment of the parent. He writes:

The principal offered a vague explanation about it. Not sure where it is coming from. It could be a “take my ball and go home” by the teachers (which I doubt) or it could be that the District is putting the brakes on it. Or a little of both. Not sure. This has trickled all the way down to my dining table. I’m beyond sick of this. Yes, I blame Dr. Suggs for the divisiveness, incompetence, lack of accountability and intimidation that is becoming part of my children’s public education.

I've asked the school district for an explanation. I'll ask Johnny Key, too, with the usual expectation of no response. He's just the school board. We used to have one that answered questions. No more.

UPDATE: A teacher tells me that this tutoring, which is paid by LRSD money, begins each year in October and traditionally goes until the end of testing. Normally, that would be about now, though testing will continue for a time this year. 

And while we're at it, another letter from another unhappy Jefferson parent (it is about kids and parents, right, not administrators?) He wants Suggs fired for his interference at a performing school.

Mr. Brantley,

As another concerned parent of Jefferson Elementary students (I have 2 there and next year will be 3) I am utterly appalled at the actions of Mr. Suggs and the LRSD. These kids deserve to be taught and learn in a safe productive environment. Mr. Suggs bullying tactics of teachers who are doing the very best they can to provide an education to these kids, is in my opinion, a fireable offense. Johnny Key is just a pawn with no authority and or power to do anything about this and the reckless behavior of the these individuals is hurting my children and the children of Jefferson Elementary. Mr. Suggs has proven to be incompetent by allowing the LRSD to under state control. The LRSD is a laughing stock across the country and that falls to Mr. Suggs. I for one, will not put up with the incompetence, intimidation, and lack of accountability that Mr. Suggs has shown and brought to the LRSD. I am asking for his resignation immediately (or to be fired) and for Johnny Key to resign from the State Board of Education immediately. My children and the children of Jefferson Elementary are being denied basic learning activities, such as tutoring after school, and this ends now!!

Randal Eckert

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