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The Indiana Daily Student

education

Board members respond to Ritz lawsuit

Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz filed a lawsuit against the State Board of Education Oct. 22.

Board members allegedly violated Indiana’s Open Door Law by meeting in secret to discuss A-F school grades being evaluated by the Indiana Legislative Services Agency and not Ritz’s own administration.

“The letter that the members of the board sent to Republican Legislative Leadership asking that LSA take over A-F grading was done without public notice, approval or even public opportunity to comment,” Ritz said in a statement. “I have always believed that fair, open and transparent decision-making is best. It is disappointing to learn that the board took action in a different manner,” she said.

On Oct. 25, members of the board Troy Albert, David Freitas, Sarah O’Brien and Tony Walker issued a letter to Superintendent Ritz asking she call off the lawsuit. They said no such secret meeting took place and that Ritz is failing to respect the board’s authority.

“Superintendent, you have said repeatedly that you have worked to communicate openly with us,” the letter said.

The members expressed their frustration in Ritz not returning emails and her lack of communication.

“However, in the interest of our students — the future of our state — we are ready to set that aside and start over,” they said.

The Open Door Law states says government meetings must be open to the public to observe and notice must be given beforehand. Ritz filed suit saying that neither occurred in this meeting. She also said her department has been working hard to get the scores out in a timely manner, but setbacks have occurred with ISTEP re-scoring.

“Because Indiana has such a high-stakes testing system, one changed score can affect not just a student or school, but multiple schools,” she said. “My administration has consistently provided this needed data to schools and will continue to do so openly and as fast as possible.”

Indiana Public Access Counselor Luke Britt said Ritz did not consult him before moving forward with the lawsuit, which would be standard protocol to determine exactly what was violated.

“One theory I’ve heard, which I don’t know the accuracy to, is that Superintendent Ritz might have been part of the meeting but then left,” Britt said. “Because the superintendent did not go through my office, she can’t collect any of the civil fees for the suit, which could be $500 per violation. At this point, the court could only admonish the board.”

Britt also said Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller has filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit because if it proceeds, Zoeller’s office would technically be required to represent both sides.

Both sides of the suit have called the others’ actions reprehensible.

“When I was sworn into office, I took an oath to uphold the laws of the State of Indiana,” Ritz said. “I take this oath very seriously, and I was dismayed to learn that other members of the State Board have not complied with the requirements of the law.”

Ritz said though she respects the board’s authority, she believes they over-stepped their bounds.

Members of the board are still hoping Ritz backs off.

“On Thursday in your press conference you stated, ‘I look forward to continuing to work to improve education for all Indiana students in a fair, transparent and collaborative manner,’” the board members said. “We share that goal, but actions speak louder than words.

“If you truly want to work in a collaborative manner, then we ask that you drop this lawsuit, put politics aside and come to the table ready to put the interests of students, teachers and schools first.”


Follow reporter Stephen Kroll on Twitter @stephenkroll1.

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