Remember all the way back in December 2019 when I was forced to file yet another lawsuit seeking to enforce the California Public Records Act against yet another white supremacist gentrifying charter, this one known as The Accelerated Schools? Well, it happened. And after fooling around for almost a year, TAS2 produced a bunch records in October 2020.3 Exciting, of course, but they were up to their usual no-good nonsense and the production was deficient in a number of essential ways.
First, there was a bunch of material missing. In particular, at least 20 emails between TAS founder Johnathan Williams and those sleazy lobbyists at the California Charter Schools Association. These are essential, of course, and the public interest is huge, as you know if you read the blockbuster articles the LA Times’s Howard Blume based on similar material I obtained in 2019.4
Second, they did not sort the documents by request. They produced almost five gigabytes of records, which they claimed constituted all material responsive to my six pending requests. It’s not actually possible to tell which material is putatively responsive to which request. It appears that there’s a lot more missing than the emails I mentioned above, but it’s actually not possible to be sure.
And finally, as usual, they claimed a bunch of bullshit exemptions that obviously don’t apply, and then refused to discuss it further. For instance, they claimed the so-called “deliberative process” exemption.5 If that makes any sense, and I don’t necessarily agree that it does, it almost certainly doesn’t apply here.
The vast majority of the records I asked for were to or from correspondents who don’t work for TAS, whereas the point of the exemption is to somehow protect officials from being scrutinized while they’re discussing pending decisions internally. If they’re already sharing their private deliberations with outsiders, like e.g. the CCSA, they’ve waived the exemption, if it ever existed in the first place.
They also used the so-called Drafts Exemption,6 This, like the catch-all exemption, requires agencies claiming it to weigh the public interest in withholding the records against the competing public interest in release. Obviously TAS didn’t do this. They also refused to explain how, where, and why they applied the exemptions, which the law requires them to do.7
And as usual, we8 begged them to come to their senses, to discuss the exemptions, to give us an idea what they were talking about, to find the missing records, to use functional search methods, and so on. They refused. Now, unless they come to their goddamned senses, and there is certainly still time, we’re going to trial on March 23, 2021 before the Honorable Mary Strobel in Department 82, Stanley Mosk, at 9:30 A.M. Here’s a copy of Skeels’s masterful brief. Stay tuned!
- But not unwelcomed!
- This is what people in the know call The Accelerated Schools. It’s pronounced “tass”.
- There’s no question that TAS was fooling around. Of course the pandemic brought records production everywhere to a halt with many agencies, and I suppose conceivably TAS deserves the benefit of the doubt in this historical moment for this very common kind of violation. Or just as likely they’re taking advantage of the opportunity. In any case, we didn’t list that as a cause of action.
- Here are links:
• L.A. charter schools’ plans: Take back mayor’s office, sue district, battle teachers union
• Memo to charter leaders: ‘It’s better to be feared than loved. Right now we are neither’
- There’s not really any such thing, but some courts have ginned it up out of Section 6255(a)’s famous catch-all clause: The agency shall justify withholding any record by demonstrating that the record in question is exempt under express provisions of this chapter or that on the facts of the particular case the public interest served by not disclosing the record clearly outweighs the public interest served by disclosure of the record.
- See the CPRA at §6254(a), which exempts “Preliminary drafts, notes, or interagency or intra-agency memoranda that are not retained by the public agency in the ordinary course of business, if the public interest in withholding those records clearly outweighs the public interest in disclosure.”
- At §6255(a) again: The agency shall justify withholding any record by demonstrating that the record in question is exempt under express provisions of this chapter…” It’s likely that refusing to explain their exemptions to me actually isn’t a violation of this language. But the language is well understood to mean that they’re required to explain their exemptions to a judge and that it’s their burden to convince the judge that they were properly applied. But why would any agency refuse to do this before a suit was filed? They’re gambling that I won’t file? It seems extraordinarily irresponsible.
- Me via Skeels, that is.