Friday, March 12, 2010

Goldwater Institute: Rural School District Seeks to Silence Parents with Lawsuit

Goldwater Institute asks judge to reject legal action by Congress Elementary School District

PHOENIX--A rural school district in Yavapai County, Arizona, has gone to court to stop four taxpayers from seeking any public records from the district, from suing the district and from filing complaints about the district with state oversight agencies. The Goldwater Institute has agreed to represent the four women and today requested that the Yavapai County Superior Court dismiss the case.
"Is every parent going to be afraid now to request records about their children, which they are entitled to see?" said Barbara Rejon, one of the defendants. "Are taxpayers no longer going to be allowed to see records about how a school district spends money? If the school district can do this, it's going to shut everyone down. No one is going to be able to ask questions or anything."

The Congress Elementary School District is located in southwest Yavapai County near Wickenburg. In January 2010, the school district filed a court motion for a preliminary injunction against Ms. Rejon, Jean Warren, Renee Behl-Hoge and Cyndi Regis. The district claims the four women have been harassing local officials with repeated requests for information about school district operations.

Goldwater Institute Investigative Reporter Mark Flatten wrote Wednesday about the lawsuit and the efforts of these four women to hold the district accountable for complying with state law. Most of the time, the women have requested basic public records such as minutes and agendas for school board meetings. Such documents are widely recognized as protected by Arizona's public records law and should be available for review upon request by anyone. Behl-Hoge, Regis and Rejon also have sought school records about their own children, as parents are guaranteed access to such records under both state and federal laws.

Mr. Flatten found the Congress school district has a history of violating these laws, as documented by the state attorney general and the state ombudsman.

Shortly after learning about the district's lawsuit, the Goldwater Institute Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation offered to represent the four women.

"The district is acting like a classic schoolyard bully," said Clint Bolick, Goldwater Institute director of litigation. "We will take whatever action is necessary to protect our clients' rights and to deter other government officials from even thinking about taking such outrageous actions to silence citizens."
If the Congress school district's lawsuit is successful, it could inspire other governments in Arizona to pursue legal action against taxpayers that request information. Mr. Flatten quoted assistant state ombudsman Liz Hill as saying many other government agencies have discussed filing similar lawsuits to curtail the number of requests they receive for public records.

To learn more about this lawsuit, Congress School District v. Warren, click here, or to read Mr. Flatten's investigation click here. The Goldwater Institute is an independent government watchdog supported by people who are committed to expanding free enterprise and liberty.

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