Faithandthelaw's Blog

The law as it relates to Christians and their free exercise of religion

Arizona School District sues parents … to shut them up!

Posted by faithandthelaw on March 13, 2010

By Bob Unruh
© 2010 WorldNetDaily

A school district in Arizona has filed a lawsuit against a handful of taxpayers seeking a court ruling that they have no right to ask for public records, sue the district or even complain to anyone about the educational institution’s activities.

The action brought by officials with the Congress, Ariz., district, against Jean Warren, Jennifer Renee Hoge, Cyndi Regis and Barbara Rejon apparently is a precedent.

Liz Hill, the assistant state ombudsman for public access, told the Goldwater Institute, which is defending the taxpayers, that she is unaware of any other situation in which a government agency went to court to block public access to public records that by law must be available.

The complaint by the district lists a number of document and records requests made over the years and then alleges it “has suffered and will continue to suffer irreparable injury and damages unless the acts of Defendants above complained of are enjoined.”

Specifically, school officials, who did not return a WND message requesting comment, want:

A judgment that the district “is not obligated” to give defendants “access to or the right to examine or copy any additional public records which they, or any of them, has or have requested of plaintiff, or any of its agents, servants, officers or employees, or which the defendants, or any of them, may request of plaintiff in the future… without first obtaining leave of this court.”

A permanent injunction halting any of the defendants from making public records requests of the district.

An injunction permanently preventing the defendants from filing any claim, charge or lawsuit over the district’s actions or records.
And costs, expenses and legal fees.

A WND message left with the attorney who signed the complaint requesting comment also was not returned.

But according to the Goldwater Institute report, the lawsuit simply alleges the taxpayers’ requests are harassment.

Warren, a defendant in the case launched just weeks ago, has another interpretation, explaining that it is an attempt to “shut us down so that nobody has any rights.”

The institute documented that the school district has a history of violating open records requirements, dating back to 2002 when the district was found to be in violation of open meetings requirements in the state. That happened again in 2007, the report said.

And the institute reported last year that the state ombudsman’s office admonished the district for its slow response to records requests.

While the lawsuit admits the documents are public records that ordinarily should be available, such as agendas and minutes of board meetings and spending reports, district attorney Franklin Hoover told the institute the requests are costly and a nuisance.

In a court motion, he wrote, “Defendants have abused both the public records request and the administrative complaint system in order to harass the Plaintiff. … Defendants’ requests and complaints were unduly burdensome due to the sheer volume of the records requiring preparation by the Plaintiff in response.”

The case is pending before Yavapai County Superior Court.

Institute attorney Carrie Ann Sitren asserted school officials are trying to silence people who have been critical of their handling of school policy and tax money.

“There is a good-faith intent by each of these people and in all of their actions to make the school better, to make it more efficient and to make the education of their children better,” she said in an Institute report. “They never asked for a single document they didn’t have good reason to ask for. Under the law you don’t even need a good reason. These people had great reasons every time.”

Among the points of contention that have fueled the records disputes have been arguments over a school uniform requirement – the school said its survey showed parents supported the plan but declined to document the support.

A second issue was a parent’s request for school records after she learned officials there had sent her daughter to see a counselor. It took 16 months for the school to even identify for the parent the counselor involved.

Two budget items also have raised concern: There were 24 air conditioning units installed when the school was built in 2001, the institute said. But by early 2009, the district had already implemented a program to replace them, according to board minutes.

Also, in 2008, the district started selling computers it had purchased only a year before for about 10 percent of the original purchase price, the report said.

Explanations were sought for both moves.

Courtesy of wnd.com at http://www.wnd.com/index.php?fa=PAGE.view&pageId=127588

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