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April 16, 2014

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Libertarian think tank sues School District for access to teacher email addresses

Are teacher email addresses a matter of public record?

That's the question at the crux of Nevada Policy Research Institute's latest lawsuit against the Clark County School District. The lawsuit was filed Thursday morning.

In June 2012 and again this February, the libertarian think tank submitted formal requests with the district for a list of email addresses for nearly 18,000 Clark County schoolteachers.

NPRI communications director Victor Joecks argues teacher email addresses are public records. Joecks said NPRI was not interested in the content of teacher emails – just the addresses.

"These are government-provided emails addresses, provided to government employees to do their government jobs," Joecks said. "It's public information. The School District doesn't get to act as a gatekeeper to public information."

The School District has repeatedly refused to grant NPRI's requests for a directory of teacher email addresses, arguing it is not a matter of public record.

School District email addresses are part of an employee's personnel records and therefore must be "safeguarded," district attorneys stated in letters to NPRI.

Additionally, the email directory "falls within the definition of a non-record given that it is similar to a book or pamphlet," district attorneys said. Nevada's public records laws don't apply to "non-records," which include "books and pamphlets printed by a government printer."

The district has received several requests from textbook companies and political groups in the past for teacher email addresses but has refused all of them, spokeswoman Melinda Malone said.

"Providing a list of employee e-mail addresses to any organization that does not conduct official business with our teachers would be a misuse of these email accounts and would allow countless businesses and organizations to continuously solicit district teachers through their work email," the district said in a statement.

Basically, "we don't want our teachers inundated with spam," Malone said.

•••

The School District's "acceptable use" policy for work email does not specify whether email addresses are public information. However, district policy states district officials cannot inspect or disclose the content of teachers' email without consent or unless the district is required to do so by local, state or federal officials.

"Electronic mail is not private," the district policy states. "As with written communication, users should recognize there is no expectation of privacy for electronic mail."

The Clark County School District website does not feature a directory of teacher email addresses, but some of the district’s 357 school websites list principal and teacher email addresses.

The Washoe County School District's website does not feature a centralized directory for its nearly 4,000 certified employees. However, some of its 93 school websites list email addresses for educators, such as principals, teachers and librarians.

The Carson City School District's website lists email addresses for all of its 480 teachers, as well as administrators and support staff, including custodians.

•••

Barry Smith, president of the Nevada Press Association, argues the public must have access to teachers' email addresses. Smith has testified several times before the Legislature as an expert on open-meeting and public records laws.

Teacher email addresses are considered public records, Smith contends, because the School District is supported by taxpayer money, which goes into administering and maintaining teacher email addresses and accounts.

"Nevada law states you can't withhold public records unless there is an exemption in the law," Smith said. "There is no such exemption here.”

As for the district’s contention it doesn’t want its teachers inundated with unwanted emails, Smith said, “Spam is something we all have to put up with."

The debate over the transparency of public officials' and employees' emails is not new.

In 2011, the Nevada Supreme Court ruled in Reno Newspapers Inc. vs. Gibbons that the content of government officials’ emails – in this case those of former Gov. Jim Gibbons – was subject to the state's public records law.

As a result, about a hundred emails from Gibbons' work account were released to the Reno Gazette Journal, which was investigating whether Gibbons used state money for an alleged affair.

This legislative session, Assemblyman Ira Hansen, R-Reno, introduced Assembly Bill 251, which seeks to make public the email addresses of government boards and committees.

Hansen apparently encountered trouble reaching members of the Sage Grouse Council, which is overseeing efforts to avoid new federal protections for an endangered bird.

•••

Although it is irrelevant to its public records request, NPRI plans to use the teacher email directory to contact teachers about their union membership, Joecks said.

NPRI infuriated teachers union officials last summer when it sent several email blasts to 12,000 teachers, informing them of their option to drop their union membership. The Clark County Education Association, which like many unions nationally, has been experiencing a decline in membership in recent years.

Under their contract with the School District, teachers have the right to opt out of the union via a written notice between July 1 and July 15 each year. Union officials did not return calls for comment on the lawsuit.

School District officials did not know how NPRI was able to gain access to the 12,000 teachers' work email addresses but surmised NPRI scanned school websites and directories and data-mined any posted email addresses using a computer program. NPRI would not say how it compiled the email list.

Thursday's lawsuit is not NPRI's first against the Clark County School District.

In August 2012, NPRI sued the district, alleging School Board members violated the Nevada open meeting law concerning the district's tax initiative for school improvements. NPRI agreed to voluntary dismiss the case after voters overwhelmingly rejected the property tax increase in November.

There is no court date set yet for NPRI's most recent lawsuit; however, Joecks said he was hopeful the district still would grant the records request. If not, the School District will likely use taxpayer money to fight to keep teacher email addresses private.

"The Clark County School District has been one of the worst government agencies we've worked with to fulfill public records requests," Joecks said. "I hope this lawsuit serves as a wakeup call for the district. It's time for them to stop delaying and denying public records requests."

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  1. NPRI already sent out their anti-Union propaganda last year when they obtained (legally or otherwise) thousands of teachers' email addresses. Why sue the CCSD to get access to to a list of emails when they've already gone to great lengths to circumvent the fact that the CCSD declined their requests? What's the endgame they are getting at? As far as I can tell, they are simply looking for more media coverage for their anti-union agenda while also wasting the CCSD's time and money.

  2. Another attempt by the union to intimidate and coerce teachers. Another attempt to rig the system in the unions favor without regard to the consequences.

    I'm often in favor of upholding access to claimed public records but in this case the information is a hybrid of government and private. With public access comes unwanted, uninvited and unwelcome intrusion and stress into an already high visibility occupation that demands public scrutiny of both public and private behaviors.

    It will be a grievous mistake to make teacher email addresses public information.

  3. I hate SPAM as much as anyone, possibly more than most. That said, I have to agree that school system email addresses are part of the public record.

    Teachers routinely encourage parents to email them. Not only that, but CCSD has set up their website for parental access to track students progress which includes access to the teachers via email.

    Public agency email addresses should be publicly available. CCSD can take legal action against those who abuse access to district email addresses. Maybe that might put some real teeth into anti-SPAM laws.

  4. If they make teacher emails available for all school teachers then it's fair game to create many many fake email accounts and spam teachers with "anti-NPRI" information using an ever changing assortment of IP ranges.

  5. Teachers in public schools are subject to what the "public" wants. Therefore, if the "public" wants a teacher's school email address, then in theory, they are entitled to it. However, we also have the CCSD (or any other public school district) School Board, which determines policy and governance, and THEY, and possibly the COURTs, would make the call.

    Many teachers disclose their school email address to parents, organizations they do business with, PTA, vendors of computer programs students use, so in that vein, it already is public. The school district has so many "filters" on each school computer now, that it nearly renders teachers trying to use those computers impossible. This reflects the levels of trust and respect of school staff said school district board and administration regarding teaching staff using school computers (even only with their login). Only ECSes and administrators have the ability to log onto a computer and not be forever blocked and filtered.

    Because CCEA is the bargaining agent for many teachers, it DOES have periodic access to school district email to make certain announcements, they are few and far between, and subject to district approval/permission.

    Poor Dale, your morning coffee hadn't kicked in obviously, because Commenter FAN caught it and called you out on your comment (before I did!)with,
    "
    "Another attempt by the union to intimidate and coerce teachers. Another attempt to rig the system in the unions favor without regard to the consequences."

    Brass--Not sure how you are trying to blame this request from the decidely anti-union NPRI on the CCEA. The goal of NPRI is to eliminate the CCEA so that teachers will fall even farther into a lower economic class. Judging by your anti-union comment, you should be in favor of that." Ha

    Because sustainably funding education is NOT a priority here in Nevada, many wonderful, highly effective, once loyal, educators are leaving the district, and many, leaving Nevada. Be careful for what you wish for. Replacing such teachers with garage sale style compensation, will only get the kind whose value rates the price. Think about it. Would YOU be the person who works for the CHEAPEST bidder? Do YOU value your education, skill sets, and work experiences in such a manner?

    People throw around the words, "high quality," like there is an abundance of it. The fact is, there is NOT an abundance. Only a few reach such a standard. They should be valued and compensated accordingly.

    Blessings and Peace,
    Star

  6. I equate NPRI with extremists. I do not want contact from this hate group. They have said nothing positive or constructive about public education EVER. I would consider it harrassment to receive any communication in my workplace from them.

  7. Do any staff or Board members of NPRI have personal or business relationships with the CCSD Board of Trustees or with CCSD management and administration? If yes, are those relationships being used to promote within CCSD an anti-CCEA animus?

  8. Education is a billion dollar industry. The people who want a piece of the pie want to destabilize it so they have justifications to 'rescue' it. These so called 'reforms' that they want is a ploy to gain inroads into the system so they can control it and get a piece, if not all of it.

    It began with charter schools, voucher system, devaluing teachers, insane accountability system to justify teachers firing, the creation of business-motivated teacher-preparation programs, dictating the curriculum, and fueling a general apathy toward teachers.

    Then they campaign to defund it; they encourage the irresponsibility of the community and society in fostering a dichotomous environment for the impressionable youth; they applaud the criminal behaviors of politicians; they caused the indifferent attitudes of parents; they abhor the idea of educating innocent children they call 'anchor babies,' and they revel at the blatant lack of leadership among its leaders.

    These people may succeed in convincing sheeples, but this greed-motivated campaign has driven many excellent teachers from the county and the state, and indeed we may see the demise of schools. They don't care. Their children are in exclusive schools!

    The ultimate losers are the children whom they are supposedly 'protecting.' And, the winners will add more billions to their ever increasing wealth. They really don't want an educated citizenry. All they need are people to do things they don't want to do for themselves, including wiping their behinds. Educated people are complainers, and those are a nuisance.

    Long live mediocrity! Long live the Sin City! Long live Las Vegas!

  9. Nancy...right on target. There is money to be made in education, but not in teaching. I have noticed that the reformers, consultants, turnaround specialists and assorted pointy-heads have precious little success to show for their lucrative efforts. Take the money and run, then blame teachers.

  10. Yes. They take credits for their 'innovations' and get paid exhorbitant fees, and when the results do not match their unreasonable predictions, they blame teachers for not implementing them with 'fidelity.' They call the system and teachers unwieldy and they skedaddle.

    Never mind Mrs. Smith who spends hours and hours preparing lesson plans and materials to implement the 'new research-based innovations,' and throwing out her own proven methods after years of discovering what children need. Never mind Mrs. Jones who spend hundreds to buy new materials to meet new-fangled directives. Never mind Mrs. Lopez who spends two to three hours tutoring children so they can catch-up.

    No teachers don't matter. They don't even deserve their pay and benefits, they had to be reduced to pay the 'innovators.' Yes. Slowly they are succeeding.

    Viva los ricos y poderosos!