FALLS CHURCH, Virginia, October 21, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) — America's largest school district may be hiding information that led to its decision to treat “gender identity” as a protected class, say concerned parents and an attorney for the government watchdog Judicial Watch.
“Fairfax parents and taxpayers were shocked by this quick move to implement this transgender-friendly policy,” said Judicial Watch president Tom Fitton. “So we responded to requests for assistance, we filed a Freedom of Information Act request under Virginia state law…and we were just snowballed.”
As originally reported by CNS News' Lauretta Brown, parents in the Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) have sent Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to the school district, demanding to see what dialogue took place between board members and state and federal officials about treating gender identity as a protected class.
All seven FOIA requests were sent to LifeSiteNews by Judicial Watch. Most focus on specific FCPS board members and communication they may have had with state and federal officials, though some documents requested information on any dialogue with Equality Virginia.
FCPS' policies say a response must be sent “within 5 working days of its receipt,” with some exceptions for “an additional 7 working days to provide a complete response.” But Fitton told LifeSiteNews this hasn't happened.
“There were more than one request, and so they used that as an excuse to delay responding to us, and then we said, 'We'll put it all in one request, and we'll even pay for the records,'” said Fitton. “We couldn't even get a straight answer as to how much money they wanted from us.”
Fitton said his group sent a check a month ago, and the county has yet to provide the information required by law.
Parents likewise told Brown that despite five months of waiting, the board has not responded.
“The Fairfax County school system and school board has refused to comply with the Freedom of Information Law as it pertains to the release of information regarding communications between current board members, the Virginia Attorney General, the state legislature and federal officials regarding the passage of changes to Policy 1450,” said former Fairfax County School Board member Mychele Brickner, who filed one of the FOIA requests through Judicial Watch.
Judicial Watch filed the FOIA requests from parents and residents, including pro-family advocate Andrea Lafferty. A FCPS public information officer did not respond to multiple requests for clarification and comment from LifeSiteNews.
The FOIA fight is the genesis of a policy largely opposed by parents that put gender identity in the same protected category as race and sex. It also takes place just weeks before the next school board elections, which some parents believe is playing a role in the school board's reticence.
In May, hundreds of parents opposed providing students with gender dysphoria special treatment, expressing concern about the implications of the policy and whether such a change was necessary. Despite being outnumbered in a loud and tense school board meeting, supporters of the change won out when only one board member opposed allowing boys to use girls' locker rooms and bathrooms, among other changes that were implemented for the 2015/2016 school year.
Some board members said the change was due to pressure from the Obama administration, which allegedly threatened to pull the county's federal funding if transgender students were not given special treatment. Others said it was simply the right thing to do, and some said new guidance from state Attorney General Mark Herring allowed the board to make the change.
After the vote, parents and other residents decided to use FOIA requests to understand what conversations took place between district, state, and federal officials. But they say they've been kept in the dark for five months.
According to FCPS policy, the following must be done within five days, in keeping with Virginia FOIA policy:
- Provide the requested record(s);
- Advise you that the record(s) are being withheld pursuant to VFOIA or other applicable statute. This response will describe the subject matter of the records and identify the specific section of VFOIA or applicable statue that exempts the record from disclosure;
- In the case that only part of a record or only some of the records requested are exempt from disclosure, FCPS will remove the portion of the record that is not public and provide the rest, along with an explanation of the subject matter of the information removed, and the specific portion of the Code of Virginia that exempts the portion of the record or the record(s) withheld;
- Inform you that the requested record(s) could not be found or do not exist. If the records are known to be held by another public body, we will provide contact information for the other public body;
- Inform you that the record(s) cannot be provided within five working days and request an additional seven working days within which FCPS will make the record(s) available or arrange with the requester a mutually agreeable time to provide the documents.
The parents have legal recourse to get the information they desire. According to the 2015 Virginia FOIA law, “Any person, including the attorney for the Commonwealth acting in his official or individual capacity, denied the rights and privileges conferred by this chapter may proceed to enforce such rights and privileges by filing a petition for mandamus or injunction, supported by an affidavit showing good cause.”
Such a lawsuit would go to “the general district or circuit court” for Fairfax, where within seven days of the date of the petition's filing the case will be heard. If the parents took this action and won, they would most likely be able to recoup costs, attorney fees, and other expenses.
“The administration charged $1,750 to compile the data that parents and taxpayers requested. After getting the fee reduced to $560.32 and submitting the check, we still have no answers,” Brickner told CNSNews.com.
If a lawsuit found that “a violation was willfully and knowingly made, shall impose upon such officer, employee, or member in his individual capacity, whether a writ of mandamus or injunctive relief is awarded or not, a civil penalty of not less than $500 nor more than $2,000, which amount shall be paid into the State Literary Fund. For a second or subsequent violation, such civil penalty shall be not less than $2,000 nor more than $5,000.”
Lafferty told LifeSiteNews she thinks the board is avoiding “a smoking gun” until the November 3 school board elections.
“There is a smoking gun in the documents we have requested,” she said. “FCPS knows the school board election is Nov 3 and is trying to run out the clock.”