Don’t be afraid of the Big Bad Wolf Teachers Union!
Making national news is the Rhode Island teachers union (backed up by the national teachers union) suing a local Rhode Island mother Nicole Solas to stop her accessing information about what her child is being taught in school. This follows comments by American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingartenpromising to pay legal fees for teachers who defy local laws and teach critical race theory to children in public schools.
Aside from showing its hubris at trying to block release of records that are public and this mother has a right to obtain, the union is attempting to cast fear into the minds of parents. But this should be a time for parents to fight back and not give into fear.
It is your right to obtain records about school curriculum and teacher training from your local school district (with certain exceptions such as individual teacher performance evaluations). In California this law is called the California Public Records Act (Government Code section 6250, etc.). The PRA allows members of the public (including parents and taxpayers – even those whose children do not attend public school) to request and obtain these records.
In California a public agency (including a school district) is not allowed to sue a records requestor to try and stop the disclosure of public records. In 2002 a unanimous CA Supreme Court in Filarsky v. Superior Court ruled that no public agency may sue a requestor to try and stop their duty to disclose records. In addition, if the agency fails to disclose the requested records, the PRA provides for the requestor to file a lawsuit against the agency to have a judicial review of the matter. And the agency has the burden to establish that the records requested are properly subject to an exemption or privilege (such as attorney client communications) to the records release.
In Rhode Island, the teachers union has filed what in California is known as a “Reverse Public Records Act case.” This is allowed in California but assuming the public records act request of a parent or taxpayer is properly crafted, such a lawsuit is likely to be denied and thrown out. If a parent does find themselves part of such a reverse case, the union would sue the school district as the defendant and the parent / taxpayer as a “real party in interest” – this (and California law) allows the parent / taxpayer to be heard by the Court in any hearing or motion in the case. In other words, the parent has a right to have their side heard by the Court.
It is very unlikely that a requestor of records will ever find themselves as a “real party in interest.” But if you do, I recommend you not try and represent yourself in court. Aside from the usual issues of needing to know the Rules of Civil Procedure and the Public Records Act, anyone who represents themselves must also know the various exemptions and privileges that might apply and whether or not those are properly being claimed by the union. It is best to find an attorney who is familiar with the Public Records Act to assist you in such a matter.
Are you a teacher who doesn’t like your union’s stance on Critical Race Theory or their taking an aggressive anti-parent stance? You no longer have to be a member of the union to keep your teaching position (or pay them dues from your paycheck). For more information about leaving your union, visit MyPayMySay.com.
Parents – want help with dealing with your school board? Want to find other like-minded parents in your area? Join the Parent Union.
Taxpayers – want to help with common-sense solutions to right the ship of California from going off the preverbal cliff? Support the work of the California Policy Center..
Craig Alexander is CPC’s General Counsel. He is the principal of the Law Offices of Craig P. Alexander and has practiced law for over 30 years. He represents clients in litigation and non-litigation matters regarding the California Public Records Act.