October 26, 2021

In recent months, school officials have shown an increasing willingness to bully and intimidate parents who are demanding reforms from their local governments—or even those who simply ask questions. But parents are fed up with this treatment—and they’re pushing back to ensure their right to be involved in their kids’ education is respected.

Goldwater Institute Vice President for Litigation Timothy Sandefur joined WMAL’s “O’Connor and Company” yesterday to talk about two such parents in Fairfax County, Virginia. Debra Tisler filed a request under the state’s Freedom of Information Act for information about how much her local school board was spending on legal fees. The board handed over about 1,000 pages of documents, which she shared with fellow parent Callie Oettinger. After Callie redacted all confidential information from the documents, she published some of them on her website, as proof of her belief that the school board spends too much money.

Virginia moms Callie Oettinger and Debra Tisler are standing up for their free speech rights, with the support of the Goldwater Institute.

That’s when the school board decided to sue, demanding that Callie and Debra “return” the files (even though they are electronic documents, so that’s impossible). What’s more, the board demanded that Callie take the documents off her website and provide the board with the names and addresses of anyone else who had seen the documents!

But these demands are unconstitutional. The First Amendment guarantees a person’s right to publish lawfully obtained information—including information the government would prefer to keep confidential. The kind of transparency Callie and Debra want from their school district is essential for parents who want to exercise their freedom of choice. Parents should be fully informed of what goes on in the classrooms their tax dollars pay for and how their elected officials are spending their money. As Sandefur explains in his radio interview, for the Fairfax County School Board to sue parents who use the freedom of information laws as part of their participation in democratic debate is a shocking and shameful abuse of power.

You can learn more about the case here, and you can listen to Sandefur’s full radio interview above.

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