To kick off Sunshine Week, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt filed suit against the Missouri School Boards Association for alleged violations of the Sunshine Law.
The Missouri Attorney General’s Office previously requested records from the Missouri School Boards Association (MSBA) related to their role in the October 4, 2021 memo from the Biden Administration and National School Boards Association that designated concerned parents who show up to school board meetings as “domestic terrorists” and called for FBI surveillance of those parents. The Office also requested documents related to MSBA guidance on critical race theory, mask mandates, and IEP meeting policies. The MSBA failed to respond to Sunshine Law requests from the Missouri Attorney General’s Office.
“I filed a lawsuit against the Missouri School Boards Association for hiding public records – records that the public and particularly parents of children in Missouri’s schools have a right to see. For months, my Office has been fighting to get to the bottom of MSBA’s role in the letter to the Biden Administration that led to the federal government investigating concerned parents,” said Attorney General Schmitt. “Further, we’ve sought records related to IEP recording policies, Critical Race Theory, and MSBA’s guidance to school districts on mask mandates. At every turn, we’ve been stonewalled. On behalf of parents across the state, I’m filing this lawsuit to obtain public records about important issues that affect their children and children in Missouri schools across the state.”
The Attorney General’s Office argues that the MSBA is subject to the Sunshine Law because MSBA is a quasi-public governmental body under the Sunshine Law, MSBA’s corporate structure satisfies the definition of a quasi-public governmental body, MSBA’s primary purpose satisfies the definition of a quasi-public governmental body, MSBA performs a public function and thus satisfies the definition of a quasi-public governmental body, MSBA’s funding comes almost entirely from public funds, MSBA provides the training required by Missouri law, and Missouri law empowers MSBA with important public functions.
In October 2021, the Missouri Attorney General’s Office submitted a Sunshine Law request to the MSBA to get public information to understand MSBA’s role in the October 4, 2021 memo from the National School Boards Association that called on the federal government to investigate parents as “domestic terrorists.” The lawsuit states, “Upon information and belief, MSBA was aware weeks in advance of the NSBA’s plans to send a letter to President Biden. Upon information and belief, MSBA initially agreed with NSBA’s letter. MSBA retweeted NSBA’s announcement that it asked the Biden Administration for ‘federal assistance.’”
The Attorney General’s Office also sought records related to MSBA’s guidance to schools on mask mandates, as well as the MSBA’s involvement in Critical Race Theory. According to the lawsuit, MSBA was listed as a client of “Educational Equity Consultants,” who provides “anti-racism” resources for schools such as publications from Ibram X. Kendi and the 1619 Project. On mask mandate guidance, the lawsuit states, “Upon information and belief, in the August 13, 2021 bulletin, MSBA labeled any parent or leader seeking to apply the new law [HB271] to school district mask mandates as ‘anti-public school forces looking for headlines.’”
In response to the Attorney General’s Office’s initial Sunshine Request relating to MSBA’s involvement with the National School Boards Association’s letter to the Biden Administration, counsel for MSBA stated that there were no responsive records, however, as the lawsuit alleges, there are very clearly responsive records for that request.
The lawsuit states that MSBA failed to respond to at least two Sunshine Law requests from the Attorney General’s Office as required by the Sunshine Law. The Attorney General’s Office also received a Sunshine Law complaint from a citizen alleging that MSBA had similarly not responded to their Sunshine Law request.
Lastly, the Attorney General’s Office alleges in the lawsuit that MSBA has failed to identify its custodian of records, a violation of the Sunshine Law.
The lawsuit is asking for the Boone County Circuit Court to enter a judgment requiring MSBA to comply with the Sunshine Law.