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What Are They Saying Behind My Daughter’s Back? PA Mom Wins Battle to Find Out

February 22, 2024

Are public school officials lobbing false accusations at a student behind closed doors—all because the child is a conservative? When southeast Pennsylvania mom Tara Adams tried to find out, she was met with stonewalling from Downington Area School District officials, who outrageously claimed district employees’ emails aren’t subject to public records requests.

But thanks to the Goldwater Institute’s American Freedom Network of pro bono attorneys, Tara can now find out what school officials are saying about her daughter in secret—after the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records thoroughly rejected the district’s meritless arguments.

In March 2023, Tara’s daughter formed a chapter of Turning Point USA, a conservative advocacy group geared toward young people, at her high school. That caught the ire of the school librarian, who had been assigned to oversee and run the chapter. The librarian then asked the school’s designated faculty club adviser why the adviser supported a club connected to a “hate group.” The Adams family soon suspected that certain school employees were discussing their daughter, the Turning Point chapter, and a connection to an alleged “hate group” via email. Like any other concerned parent, Tara wanted to know what school employees were saying about her daughter—information she is entitled to see.

Determined to get answers, Tara filed a public records request for emails discussing Turning Point and/or the “hate group” allegation—and she identified specific school employees involved with the club or likely involved in these discussions. In response, the district denied her entire request, claiming school district employee emails are not public records subject to Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law. The district also argued that the request was not specific enough, and that parents are not entitled to their children’s records when their children are minors.

Unfortunately, parents often receive these nonsensical denials from bureaucrats trying to evade transparency—and it can take legal action to get answers.

In December, attorney Wally Zimolong, who is a member of the Goldwater Institute’s American Freedom Network of pro bono attorneys, filed an appeal with the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records on Tara’s behalf, challenging the district’s denial. Ultimately, the office agreed that the school district’s blanket argument lacked merit and was not supported by caselaw. The Office of Open Records also made it clear that Tara’s request was sufficiently specific to enable a search of the records, and that parents do, in fact, have a right to their child’s records.

“I’m proud to help Tara win this important battle for transparency. Parents, like Tara, have a right to know what government employees are saying about their children,” Zimlong says. “Woke ideologues in our public schools cannot hide behind the Right to Know Law to keep their discussions secret.”

Parents shouldn’t have to take legal action in the first place just to find out what public school employees are saying about their kids in secret. Nor should public schools be dodging records requests to conceal their communications. But the laws governing public records requests can be confusing, and citizens are often unaware of their rights. That’s why the Goldwater Institute’s Ask Your School Now website gives parents the tools they need to file effective public records requests when the government tries to keep secrets. And the American Freedom Network of pro bono attorneys stands ready to help parents in every state to access the information they deserve to see.

The Goldwater Institute and its American Freedom Network will continue to fight for public school transparency—and to stand up for dads and moms like Tara Adams.

Stacy Skankey is a Staff Attorney at the Goldwater Institute.



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