Scottsdale Unified Accused Of Denying Public Records Requests Related to Gender, Sexuality Topics

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In July 2022, Scottsdale Unified launched a public portal exposing the names of district selected public records requestors as well as the topics of information they seek. The documents returned in records requests, however, are not made publicly available.

What Scottsdale Unified may have failed to consider is that their own public archive exposes their refusal to fill public records requests. As of October 31, 2022, a total of 86 requests are visible in the SUSD public archive portal. Ten of those requests have been open and unfilled for more than 90 days, with the oldest being 122 days old. An additional 11 requests are more than 60 days unfilled. In total, 30 requests are unfilled.

A review of the requests being denied reveals that the district is blocking distribution of public information related to gender ideology, pronoun surveys, equity events, sexual harassment, and the controversial Unitown club and AnyTown camp.

Parents report that they have filed complaints with the Arizona Ombudsman’s office but have not received a response to date.

While some requests remain open for months, SUSD has filled requests submitted as recently as October 24, 2022. Requests being filled ask for information such as student lists, employee records, contracts, financial information, salary information, a staff handbook and donation receipts.

A public records request made on October 14, 2022, reveals that the district holds the ability to selectively expose or hide record request submissions in its archive portal, and that the district is playing other games, such as omitting attachments from emails returned as responsive documents.

At least one parent has emailed Superintendent Scott Menzel and the SUSD Governing Board directly regarding unfilled requests submitted more than 100 days ago. Board President Julie Cieniawski confirmed receipt of the email, acknowledging her awareness of the claim that the district is acting in violation of A.R.S. §39-121.01 that requires a prompt response to a request for the inspection of public records. Delays well over 100 days is not a prompt response and exposes the district to legal action. However, to some, the district is flouting their obligations under the law and using expensive outside counsel to obfuscate and intimidate those making requests.

While Menzel did not respond to the parent, Jennifer MacLennan of Gust Rosenfeld law firm informed the parent that the district has not denied any public records requests, but rather “the District is responding to public record requests in the order they are received if they involve the need for substantial review and redaction.”

A quick review of the public portal request statuses and dates showcases that MacLennan’s statement appears to be untrue.

Additionally, MacLennan told the parent “According to my review, the District will be responding to some of the requests that you have submitted as next in the queue.  I believe that there are only a few ahead of PRR R000795-070122I,” thus revealing that the district has unfilled requests dating further back than the July 1, 2022, launch of the public archive.

“The Public Record Request is an accountability tool that SUSD simply doesn’t want parents to have. That is why in the next legislative session we will advocate for a maximum 30-day response time for those requests,” says Shiry Sapir, Chairwoman Education Advocates for Kari Lake. “Since the statute is written with the expectation of good faith, the data proves the district is in fact taking advantage of that language.”

In May 2022, community member Rich Hoffecker took the district to task, soliciting the help of the Davillier Law Group after the district’s then attorney, Lori Bird, claimed in three separate correspondence there were no responsive documents to a request for which Hoffecker held qualifying documents.

In correspondence obtained by the Arizona Daily Independent, the Davillier Law Group attorney documented a conversation with Bird revealing that SUSD lacks a document retention policy, that “their employees regularly delete emails,” and that the district “routinely denies the production of public records to ‘protect’ teachers/staff from ‘harassment’ resulting from public scrutiny of their work-related activities.”

Bird’s comments may refer to media coverage that has resulted from documents obtained via public record requests. For example, parents have uncovered that the Scottsdale district taught students that only 4% of men are exclusively heterosexual, that a Gender Sexuality Alliance teacher received a hormone therapy clinic in-take form via her official SUSD email account, that the Scottsdale Unified Support Services department is pushing gender ideology resources on children, and that Cocopah Middle School held a secret GLSEN Day of Silence encouraging kids to proclaim their pronouns and silently protest for LGBTQ+ students during class time.

Five days after the Davillier Law Group’s demand letter was sent to the district, Bird returned 425 pages of responsive documents that she had been withholding. Hoffecker subsequently filed an ethics complaint with the State Bar of Arizona against Bird claiming that she made “false statements of material fact” in her official capacity when falsely claiming responsive documents did not exist. In statements Bird made to the State Bar investigator when interviewed, she falsely claimed that documents became discoverable only after Davillier Law Group attorneys changed the search criteria, a claim contested by Hoffecker. According to investigation documents the State Bar subsequently dismissed the complaint on the word of Bird in spite of the documented evidence presented. Bird is now practicing at Udall Shumway law firm.

“I find it ironic that Ms. Bird made a ‘false statement of material fact’ to an investigator investigating her for making a ‘false statement of material fact,’” says Hoffecker. “However, this is how the district works when parents are looking for transparency in how they operate. It is a pattern of obfuscation, delay, and in the case of Ms. Bird, they straight out lie to conceal information. It makes someone paying attention ask, what are they hiding?”

Documents from the State Bar investigation show that Bird also claimed that she needed to protect SUSD employees from death threats. A public records request seeking all threats made against SUSD employees returned a single phone call recording. The recording was of a community member who called SUSD social worker Gary Griggs a “groomer,” apparently for his participation in planning a sexual orientation lesson for the AnyTown “leadership” camp. Griggs leads the SUSD Unitown club and is the director of the associated AnyTown camp.

While parents struggle to gain information about the education being provided by the controversy-laden Scottsdale district, they grow more frustrated by the lack of available options to defend themselves. Several say they lack the resources to weather a court battle with a district that controls a multi-hundred-million-dollar budget and has a law firm on retainer.

“Parents are entitled to any and all information they deem pertinent to their child, and the only logical explanation for the district defiance is that they simply don’t want that information in the hands of the parents,” says Sapir. “This behavior is what has been driving families away from the district, and one would wonder when will the district get the message.”

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