State Board of Education sued for alleged sunshine law violation | Arkansas Blog

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

State Board of Education sued for alleged sunshine law violation

Posted By on Tue, Mar 22, 2016 at 6:44 PM

click to enlarge SMOKING GUN: An e-mail used as exhibit in FOI lawsuit.
  • SMOKING GUN: An e-mail used as exhibit in FOI lawsuit.

A complaint was filed in Pulaski Circuit Court today complaining that the state Board of Education had violated the Freedom of Information Act in actions leading up to a state Board  meeting last Friday on reviewing expansions of two charter schools and the continued licensure of another in Little Rock.

The suit recounts what I've written about here: That items were added and then removed from the Board agenda after communication among board members by e-mail. This is widely viewed as an illegal way around the FOIA.  It also raises the question of the propriety of board attorney Kendra Clay advising the Board that they could communicate through a "liaison" in the Department of Education to communicate directions.

The board appeared to be acting arbitrarily, without regard to the FOI and in bad faith, said the lawsuit. The plaintiff is Claudius Johnson, a resident of Pulaski County, and he is represented by lawyers Seth Bowman and Camille Edmison.

For a time, the agenda for Friday's meeting included a vote on a motion to cancel the Board review of charter schools approved in an earlier Board vote. A controversy arose, spurred in part by comments and questions raised on the Arkanas Blog. The agenda was changed early Friday morning and the rescission votes were removed.

The lawsuit said, however, that the "use of e-mail to eliminate the opportunity of the public to be heard is an act of racial and socioeconomic prejudice, as it was anticipated that the review of the disproportionate impact of the Charter Authorizing Panel would focus and bring to light any such impacts."

This ties in — not coincidentally — to the ongoing federal lawsuit over the state takeover of the School District, described as another in a series of state acts to support segregation by the plaintiffs.

The lawsuit asks for an injunction against the state Board of Education, a declaration that the FOI was violated, and an order to move the charter school expansion to a hearing May 12. It is currently scheduled later this month. The suit also wants a finding that the department' attorney's advice to supply information through an intermediary was an FOI violation and cites the same Fort Smith case I mentioned  earlier on the point.

As exhibits, the lawsuit uses copies of man of the same lawsuits we used to illustrate our earlier posts about the state Board's extraordinary action, including notes acknowledging the seeming impropriety of what was occurring.

JOURNALISM NOTE: To date, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, a cheerleader for all charter schools editorially and rarely a skeptic in news columns, has to date avoided discussion of Freedom of Information Act issues and the state Board. The FOIA is normally a high priority for the newspaper. Will a lawsuit draw their attention?  Or will it simply bring still more excuse-making from the editorial page for a state education establishment clearly in control of the Billionaire Boys Club (Walton, Stephens, Houseman, Murphy fortunes) through their former legislative helper, Education Commissioner Johnny Key?

The case has been assigned to Judge Chris Piazza.

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