La. Supt. John White Loses Lawsuit He Filed Against Citizens
On May 03, 2016, Louisiana state superintendent John White (“on behalf of the Louisiana Department of Education”) sued two private citizens, Michael Deshotels and James Finney, in order to get Louisiana’s 19th Judicial District Court (Baton Rouge) to tell Deshotels and Finney that the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) has the right to issue suppressed data (not actual counts) for certain variables if the actual counts fall below 10 “and any percentage of 0 or 100.”
The language of the suit is clear; White/LDOE sought the right to deliver suppressed data instead of actual counts:
Wherefore, your Plaintiff prays that the Defendants be cited and served with a copy of this petition, and that, after due proceedings had, there be judgment in favor of the Plaintiff, the Louisiana Department of Education, and against the Defendants, Michael R. Deshotels and James C. Finney, declaring that the Department’s suppression of the data in the Economically Disadvantaged and English Proficiency subgroups is compliant with state and federal law and not a violation of Louisiana Public Records Law (La. R.S. 44:1 et seq), for attorney’s fees and cost of these proceedings, and for all relief that is just and equitable.
The suit included no language to the effect of not being sure what to do. On the contrary, White/LDOE petitioned the Court to declare that LDOE was within its rights to suppress the data in question.
By filing for a declaratory judgment, LDOE agreed that the Court’s judgment would be the final word on the matter and that there would be no appeal. However, the language of the LDOE suit shows that LDOE sought (expected) a judgment in its favor. In other words, the goal of White/LDOE in filing for declaratory judgment against Deshotels and Finney was to end any future public records requests for unsupressed data.
The Court disagreed.
Instead, on October 04, 2016, the Court found in favor of the Defendants. According to the Court, White’s/LDOE’s attempts at data suppression indeed violate Louisiana Public Records Law:
The court having been informed that the request for declaratory judgment has been resolved by stipulations, as evidenced by the signatures of counsel for all parties herein below,
The following order is hereby entered by the court.
- The suppression of data in the economically disadvantaged and English language learner (“ELL”) or English proficiency sub-groups of the Louisiana Department of Education Multi-stat reports is not in compliance with the Louisiana Public Records Act.
- The Louisiana Department of Education shall not suppress student enrollment data in responding to requests made under the Louisiana Public Records Act.
- The data regarding the economically disadvantaged and English language learner (“ELL”) or English proficiency sub-groups of the Louisiana Department of Education Multi-stat reports will be made available to the public back to 2006 pursuant to the Louisiana Public Records Act.
In the October 06, 2016, Advocate, White tries to downplay the loss as simply one of seeking “guidance”:
“The federal government told the Department not to make available student enrollment data that could be used to personally identify a child,” he said Thursday. “State law, on the other hand, tells the Department to disclose all public records. We asked a state judge for guidance on state law, and we received it.”
Poor John White. So torn. But he wasn’t torn in the language of his suit. In the suit, White/LDOE present federal and state law as both on their side. Indeed, White/LDOE tried to justify LDOE’s data suppression using arguments that such was “compliant with state and federal law.” Moreover, the whole reason for this declaratory filing was that White was resisting fully complying with the judgment of a previous suit he lost to Deshotels.
At this point, White’s downplaying the declaratory loss is irrelevant. When Deshotels, or Finney, or other Louisiana citizens request student enrollment counts on variables collected by LDOE, LDOE must deliver.
The Louisiana Department of Education shall not suppress student enrollment data in responding to requests made under the Louisiana Public Records Act.
To John White: Consider yourself “guided.”