By Corinne Murdock
The Goldwater Institute announced Thursday that it will represent a mother sued by the National Education Association (NEA) for daring to look into her school’s curriculum. The NEA is the largest teachers unions in the nation, with over $300 million to spend.
The Rhode Island mother, Nicole Solas, was slapped with the lawsuit on Monday. The NEA requested that the court prohibit the release of the records Solas sought. They alleged in their lawsuit that those records would cause teachers to be targeted and harassed by conservatives. Solas sought records pertaining to the teaching of critical race theory and gender theory, among other controversial topics.
“It is anticipated that teacher records will be produced that will be of a personal nature and will contain the identities of the teachers engaged in the personal communication as well as other communications that relate to the personal issues, disciplinary issues, performance issues, medical issues and issues not related to the official business of the School Department,” wrote the NEA. “[T]eacher emails will be produced that may or will continue discussion about critical race theory curriculum or other issues of ‘interest’ to the requestors that will contain individual teachers’ names and personally identifying information. Given the circumstances of the requests, it is likely that any teachers who are identifiable and have engaged in discussion about things like critical race theory will then be the subject of teacher harassment by national conservative groups opposed to critical race theory.”
Further, the NEA argued that not all records kept by public bodies were public record. It added that redaction of those records wasn’t always sufficient to ensure privacy.
In a press release, Goldwater Institute National Litigation Director Jon Riches assessed that this lawsuit is contrary to Solas’s rights as a parent and citizen.
“This brazen and unprecedented act of intimidation by the NEA will not stand,” said Riches. “Nicole Solas is entitled to know what her daughter’s school is teaching in the classroom. She’s entitled to ask questions. And she does not deserve to face legal action just for asking questions any concerned parent would ask.”
The debacle began when Solas submitted open records requests to her district this spring about the curriculum exposed to her daughter, as well as teacher correspondence
Ultimately, the district said it would cost Solas $74,000 to obtain the records. District policy states that they may charge 15 cents per page, and/or $15 per hour after the first hour of records retrieval. If the district was charging by the hour alone, it would take them a little over 4,900 hours, or 548 days (estimated based on 9 hour work days).
The lawsuit noted that the district released 6,500 pages of documents. That would cost about $975.
Solas hasn’t been discouraged by the lawsuit. Rather, she said that this would only help to further her cause for transparency.
“The NEA is so determined to push its political agenda that they are willing to expose themselves in a court of law for who they really are: an association of bullies eager to challenge a stay-at-home mom who simply wanted to know what her daughter would be taught,” said Solas. “This lawsuit won’t deter me from asking questions, and I encourage all parents to do the same, so that they are empowered to make informed decisions regarding their children’s education.”
The local NEA chapters, the National Education Association of Rhode Island (NEARI) and the National Education Association South Kingstown (NEASK), filed the lawsuit.
NEARI Deputy Executive Director Jennifer Azevedo said that NEA supports open records but believes that the interests of privacy outweigh the public interest in this case.
“We are asking the Court to conduct a balancing test to determine whether our members’ privacy rights outweigh the public interest,” said Azevedo. “We believe they do, and those records should either not be disclosed or should be redacted accordingly.
The NEA also named the school committee of Solas’s district, South Kingstown School District, as a defendant in the lawsuit.