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La. Superintendent John White Sues Citizens Who Made Public Records Requests

May 31, 2016

James Finney, a Louisiana citizen, has filed numerous unanswered public records requests for information related to school enrollments and statistical calculations.

On March 12, 2016, Finney appealed to BESE regarding difficulties in having his public records requests filled by John White and alerted the board that he had decided to sue.

In response, Louisiana State Superintendent John White chose to sue Finney.

The following discourse represents the full contents of an email dated May 31, 2016, from Finney to all Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) members and copied to White:

Greetings once again to members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education:

As you may recall, I sent you an email March 12 (attached below) describing the status of several pending record requests that I had placed with John White and the Department of Education.  I also mentioned the existence of a lawsuit (Finney vs White, 6395333, attached).  That lawsuit, which was filed May 22, 2015, was set for trial in late April.

However, on April 11, Mr. White’s attorney requested and was granted a continuance, presumably to become better prepared for trial and to resolve a scheduling conflict with the Department’s sole witness.  Rather than prepare for trial, however, it seems that Mr. White instead instructed his attorney to file two lawsuits against me which appear to be groundless, unnecessary, and against the public interest. Meanwhile, Mr. White and his staff have made no effort to address the 35 pending requests which are subject of my lawsuit.

The first new lawsuit (White vs Finney, 647827, attached) addresses five requests I made in fall 2015, five that I made in February of this year, and one that I made in March. In the lawsuit, Mr. White apparently is asking the judge to create special conditions on Louisiana’s public records law. It seems that, for whatever reason, Mr. White is bending over backward to make sure the public has no idea what statistical distributions LEAP, iLEAP, or EOC test scores follow.  Are they symmetric?  Skewed?  Bimodal? Uniform?  Nor does he, it seems, wish the public to have any means of verifying that School or District Performance Scores have been fairly and accurately calculated.

The second new lawsuit (White vs Deshotels et al, 647953, attached) attempts to reverse favorable judgments Mr. Deshotels received in two prior lawsuits, and apply that reversal (which seems unlikely given that the 19th JDC is not an appellate court) to a subsequent request by Mr. Deshotels and also to one of my requests.  He seeks to use Mr. Deshotels and I as pawns, and cost us additional time and money, to establish a data-suppression policy that was already soundly rejected at court.

I have repeatedly requested meetings with Mr. White and/or his staff to work out arrangements that allow the public to have access to important public records without compromising student privacy nor causing the Department undue burden. I have consistently been rebuffed. And now we’re tangled in litigation in three different divisions of the local district court.

Most of my requests to date, and all that are subject to litigation thus far, could be collected into the following six categories. I trust you would consider these all to be important and of potential public interest:

  • calculation details regarding Value-Added Modeling as performed by the Department
  • voucher programs’ exact enrollments and costs, and demographics of voucher students
  • test-score distributions and technical reports
  • details of School and District Performance Score calculations adequate to verify accuracy and credibility
  • charter schools’ enrollments, charters and leases, and other information
  • exact enrollment numbers with no more suppression than is absolutely required to protect the anonymity of an individual student

I urge you as a body to ask Mr. White to defend his position regarding data secrecy, and his preference for litigation over useful dialogue. Is the department in service to the public, or to test-creators, charter networks and private schools? Have the school grades and Value-Added measures been calculated fairly?  How will we ever know? Is Southern politeness more important than democracy? Is it appropriate to sue citizens rather than responding properly to public record requests?  Please ponder those questions carefully, and provide the appropriate guidance to the Superintendent who is employed at your pleasure.

Thank you.

Dr. James Finney

White is working hard to hide what he is doing to Louisiana public education.

Suing private citizens over public record requests is a new low for an already sorry excuse of a state superintendent. However, it seems that with White, no low is too low.

john white 2  John White

____________________________________________________________

Coming June 24, 2016, from TC Press:

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Stay tuned.

 

***

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of the ed reform whistle blower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education.

She also has a second book, Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

12 Comments
  1. We in CA and with CTA and NEA have our own “legal battles” not to mention the minutia of personnel issues for public school teachers. So, it’s difficult to follow all of this. However, having come from Louisiana to CA as an educator – PhD UNO – I’ve tried. Bottom line, John White and many, many, “public school” administrative officials -at many levels- Don’t actually believe in the legitimacy of “public education” and believe it should be privatized. Therefore, they seem to feel justified to use any means to undermine it, (public education), as John White seems all to willing to do here. Too many “John White” types have infiltrated the ranks of k-12 Administration and at all levels in my opinion. They seem to be backed by many school board members too! What to do? The Louisiana cases are the “tip of the spear” as I see it!

  2. LAEducator permalink

    How is John White still here now that Jindal is gone? I am hoping that after a successful second special session of the legislature (to save higher Ed & our hospitals), JBE will turn his full attention to doing whatever is necessary to rid Louisiana of this lying carpetbagger. More public pressure against White could surely be generated if the local mainstream media would pick up this story. Louisiana certainly has no money to spare for the legal defense of testing practices which are unethical & do nothing to accurately measure the academic achievement of our children.

  3. NolaNirvana permalink

    LAEducator, I agree with your comments. Unfortunately the BESE board is packed with members elected by the out of state interests that ultimately gave us John White. I believe that JBE did not think he could get the votes from BESE to remove White. I hope the mainstream media will pick up and promote this story. We have suffered far too long with state politicians and officials who treat us as “subjects” rather than taxpayers who provide their livelihood.

  4. Several new BESE members may feel compelled to question White if the public let’s them know they are being held accountable. This letter from Finney begs a response. Everyone who wants to see White go needs to communicate with all BESE members regarding specific issues. They employ White and he is answerable to them. Because of that they should understand they could be called to court to testify either in support of their appointee or in opposition. They are all long overdue for a showdown in court where testimony is under oath. It would seem that Finney’s letter puts them in that position. I hope he and his lawyer set up depositions or subpoena them when the case is heard.

  5. Zorba permalink

    Sounds like a SLAPP lawsuit:

    “A strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) is a lawsuit that is intended to censor, intimidate, and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense until they abandon their criticism or opposition.[1] Such lawsuits have been made illegal in many jurisdictions on the grounds that they impede freedom of speech.”

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strategic_lawsuit_against_public_participation

    Purely meant for intimidation, and it would be nice if the judges would not only dismiss such lawsuits, but fine the bringers of such suits and make them pay the legal costs of the citizens against whom they brought such suits.

    And if Louisiana does not yet have a law against SLAPP lawsuits, they need to pass one. they’re illegal where I live.

  6. Mark Breaux permalink

    Mr. White what are you trying to hide, you work for the citizens, let us know…

  7. Linda permalink

    “If we don’t fight for democracy, we lose it”. Enforcement of treason laws, identifying oligarchs and their minions, as enemies of the state, is near. If existing court justices fail to protect democracy, the alternative is a people’s court of justice. Prof. Gilens of Princeton conducted research that showed Congress does not listen to 90% of Americans. It will not stand.

  8. Jack permalink

    I don’t understand how this works. For example, if White prevails in the lawsuit, will the defendants be forced to pay some money as damages in the judgment? Is White seeking damages? Will this just mean that the information that is being sought will remain sealed?

    Why is he suing those seeking the information? Shouldn’t White sue the government to stop the release of this information?

    This is odd.

    • NolaNirvana permalink

      Jack, it is more than odd. I believe it falls in the category of refusing to carry out the requirements of his job. Hopefully this will give JBE ammunition to have BESE remove him from this position. I did see something online yesterday about Chris Nakamoto of WBRZ doing a story on this. He is a great reporter and doesn’t back off.

  9. Erin Drury permalink

    Who is responsible for Compass and are they still being enforced, or have they been changed or will they be eliminated? Can schools make adjustments?

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Mercedes Schneider: Louisiana Superintendent John White Sues Citizen Who Files a Request for Information | Diane Ravitch's blog
  2. John White follows Ouachita judges in suing Baton Rouge pair over access to LDOE public records; is this a new trend? | Louisiana Voice

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