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Sunday, October 27, 2013

Indiana's Glenda Ritz and Her Lawsuit Against the State Board of Education Could Change Open Door Policy in Government

Indiana: Does the Public Have a Right to Know What Public Officials Do?

by dianerav
State Superintendent of Instruction Glenda Ritz is suing because the state board of education, appointed by Governors Mitch Daniels and Mike Pence, took a vote to strip her of any role on reviewing the A-F grading system when she was not present. She is the chair of the board, by law. The decision was made in secret, without an open meeting.
Indiana Lesley Weidenbrener says the suit raises important questions:
"if a judge decides what the board did is legal, it could set a dangerous precedent for other public groups and may call for legislators to rethink the Open Door Law.
"After all, what would stop city council members from simply circulating a letter to approve a contract for snow removal? Or why couldn’t the Indiana Gaming Commission vote to discipline a blackjack dealer who broke the rules by just emailing the proposed punishment around to members?
"For that matter, why would a board ever really need to meet again at all if the members could take care of business through email?
"Sound extreme? Of course it does. And the action taken by 10 members of the State Board of Education was nothing like approving a contract, spending money or issuing a penalty.
"The members requested that the legislative branch get involved in a Department of Education function. They didn’t even have the authority to demand that lawmakers get involved.
"Still, there’s a reason these types of actions are supposed to take place in public.
"In a democracy, constituents and the media are responsible for holding their elected officials — and often appointed officials — accountable for their actions. That’s tough to do if the public can’t see the actions taking place.
"In addition, most government bodies let the public weigh in before they take action. That won’t happen when the decision is made through an email exchange.
"So this case is one to watch — not just because of the impact it could have on education and state politics. It’s also about the public’s right to know and it could affect every layer of government in Indiana."
The bottom line is that Governor Mike Pence will go to any extreme--including breaking the law--to strip Ritz of the powers of the office to which she was elected by the people of Indiana.
See previous post:

Indiana's Superintendent Files A Lawsuit Against the State Board of Education

Indiana Governor Mike Pence

Diana Ravitch's Blog

Governor Mike Pence, in his continuing efforts to make sure that the duly elected State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz is stripped of her constitutional authority as chair of the state board of education, has encouraged the state board to hold secret meetings when Ritz was not present.
At a recent meeting, the Pence board voted to transfer authority over the A-F grading system from the board to the state legislature. This is the same grading system that was created and manipulated by former Superintendent Tony Bennett to protect the charter school of a campaign contributor.
Superintendent Ritz issued the following press release today:


Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Daniel Altman
Press Secretary
Superintendent Glenda Ritz
INDIANAPOLIS – In response to apparent violations of the Open Door Law by members of the State Board of Education, Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz filed suit today naming ten members of the Board as defendants.  The lawsuit alleges that the named members of the State Board violated Indiana’s Open Door Law by taking action in secret by drafting, or directing the drafting of, a letter they sent to President Pro Tempore Long and Speaker Bosma dated October 16, 2013.  The suit seeks to prevent the State Board of Education from continued violations of the Open Door Law and declaratory relief.
Glenda Ritz

Specifically, the lawsuit alleges that ten members of the State Board violated Indiana’s Open Door Law when they took action by requesting that Senator Long and Speaker Bosma appoint Indiana’s Legislative Services Agency to perform calculations to determine the 2012-2013 A-F grades for Indiana schools.  The suit alleges that no public notice was issued for a meeting that allowed for this action and that Superintendent Ritz was not made aware of this action until after it was taken, despite her role as Chair of the State Board of Education.
“When I was sworn in to office, I took an oath to uphold the laws of the State of Indiana,” said Superintendent Ritz.  “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.  While I respect the commitment and expertise of members of the board individually, I feel they have over-stepped their bounds.
“Since my inauguration, I have worked tirelessly to communicate openly with the Board and the public.  I do not take this action lightly, but my obligations as elected state Superintendent require it.   I look forward to continuing to work to improve education for all Indiana students in a fair, transparent and collaborative manner.”
The suit is Ritz v. Elsener, et al and it has been filed in the Marion Circuit Court.  The cause number is 49C01-1310-PL-038953.  The Department of Education is using in-house counsel to avoid any additional costs to the state.

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