Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) has agreed to pay $10,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a parent who accused the school board of violating the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by using private email accounts to conduct public business.
What is FOIA and why is it important?
FOIA is a federal law that gives the public the right to access information and documents controlled by the government, state, or other public authority upon request. FOIA is important because it ensures informed citizens, vital to the functioning of a democratic society.
FOIA also applies to state and local governments, which have their own FOIA laws and regulations. In Virginia, FOIA requires public bodies to provide access to public records and meetings, unless they are exempted by law.
What was the lawsuit about and how was it resolved?
The lawsuit was filed by Scott Mineo, a parent and founder of Parents Against Critical Theory (PACT), a group that opposes the LCPS’s diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. Mineo claimed that the school board members used their personal email accounts to communicate with each other and with the superintendent about public matters, such as the reopening of schools, the adoption of an equity policy, and the hiring of a diversity consultant.
Mineo argued that these emails were public records under FOIA and that he had the right to access them. He also alleged that the school board members deleted some of the emails to avoid disclosure.
The school board denied any wrongdoing and said that they followed the FOIA rules and provided Mineo with all the responsive records they had. They also said that they used their personal email accounts only for incidental or emergency purposes, and that they forwarded any relevant emails to their official accounts.
The lawsuit was settled on January 25, 2024, after several months of negotiations. The settlement agreement states that the school board will pay Mineo $10,000 to cover his legal fees and costs, and that both parties will release each other from any further claims related to the lawsuit. The settlement does not admit any liability or wrongdoing by the school board.
What are the implications and reactions of the settlement?
The settlement is seen as a victory for Mineo and PACT, who have been vocal critics of the LCPS’s policies and practices on diversity, equity, and inclusion. Mineo said that he was pleased with the outcome and that he hoped it would send a message to the school board to be more transparent and accountable to the public.
The settlement is also seen as a reminder for the school board and other public officials to comply with FOIA and to use their official email accounts for public business. The Loudoun County Commonwealth’s Attorney, Buta Biberaj, said that she was glad that the lawsuit was resolved and that she would continue to monitor the school board’s compliance with FOIA.
The settlement is not expected to have a significant impact on the ongoing controversy over the LCPS’s diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, which have sparked protests, lawsuits, and recall efforts against some of the school board members. The school board has maintained that it is committed to providing a safe and inclusive learning environment for all students and staff.