Monday, May 09, 2005

Charter Schools USA is threatening legal action against parents who use an Internet discussion board to air grievances about Gateway Charter

This is a big story that is breaking out--first on 'DailyKos—Charter Schools USA Storyand is also being discussed on another education blog AnOldSoul that I list on my sidebar. Thanks to Joe Thomas, a fellow blogger in Arizona (also listed on my sidebar) for alerting me to this. The politics are worth a read. (Also see related news story below.)

Below, I also posted a story about a major protest in an Oakland, CA elementary school that includes serious concerns that parents have about the testing of their children. It resonates so well with the story that CNN produced on high-stakes testing in Virginia, Texas, and Florida.

I also posted some other news about Bush's high school bill being dead on arrival. I hope that some of these concerns are finally registering in Congress.


Charter threatens parents with lawsuit
Published by on May 6, 2005

Charter Schools USA is threatening legal action against parents who use an Internet discussion board to air grievances about Gateway Charter. Parent Angela Reigelman, who created the virtual forum, received a letter via FedEx on Thursday ordering her to remove the forum. The company also warned other Web contributors Thursday.

Postings on the forum address topics ranging from academics and school events to complaints about school leadership and rumor control. Some parents bluntly state their dissatisfaction with teachers, Principal Deborah Nauss and Charter Schools USA President Jonathan Hage, who said Thursday the company will "vigorously defend" its reputation.

"CSUSA has reviewed the Web site and has determined that your and other parents' and other Web site participants' published accusations, comments and statements are unlawful, defamatory and libelous against CSUSA, Gateway Charter School and Dr. Nauss," attorney Lisa MacClugage stated in the letter to Reigelman.
"Accordingly, CSUSA hereby demands that you immediately cease and desist your continuous published libel and defamatory accusations, comments and statements." Reigelman says the Web forum gives parents an open venue to discuss educational issues.

It's especially critical, she says, after a May 3 letter to parents signed by the PTO's executive board stating: "In light of the fact that various individuals and groups are trying to politicize the PTO, we have decided to cancel all further PTO meetings for the duration of the 2004-05 school year."

The Web forum contains 65 registered members and shows nearly 36,000 page views since it was created last month.
Reigelman, of Alva, said she monitors the site to make sure only facts are posted.

"Information in there is fact-based and can be found through public record in Lee and Hendry counties," she said. "I have not threatened anyone and don't feel I have. This was not meant to be malicious." Reigelman said she simply wants the school to respond to parents, either in a Web forum or face-to-face meeting.

"I really don't understand why attorneys were brought into this," she said. "We are not an angry mob. All we want is to be heard, and it doesn't appear that they want to hear from all of us." The company's demand to close the forum does raise free-speech issues. "Any action by school officials to remove it raises serious First Amendment concerns," said Robert Corn-Revere, a Washington D.C.-based attorney who specializes in Internet-related free-speech issues. "No one likes to be criticized, but that doesn't make it libelous."

Neither Hage or Senior Vice President Tom Geismar would specify which postings were objectionable.
Geismar said the company has a responsibility to ensure a safe environment for students and staff, and he supports "positive, open communications" with parents.

Some messages question Nauss' side jobs and her husband's role with finances at the school, how Hage afforded his East Coast home and a rumor about why an assistant principal left Gateway Charter.
Nauss said Thursday she hasn't seen the site but is aware of its content. She supports the company's decision to begin legal remedies. She said she hopes the situation doesn't escalate.

"I think anyone in administration at a school can be viewed by many different people in different ways and open themselves up to scrutiny," Nauss said. "We are attempting to do things differently at the charter schools. We realize folks will have questions." Parent Mary Vance, of Lehigh Acres, was among those who received the attorney's letter but isn't sure why she was targeted.

"I can't figure out how it was learned I was involved in the message board," Vance said, adding that parents use member names, not their real names. "I'm trying to figure out what I have said or done that is libelous and defamatory. I don't have fear for this. I have concern. To me, it seems like a scare tactic."


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