Having learned of a "Rainbow Connection" group that fell under the auspices of the taxpayer-funded C.A.R.E. program(Chemical Abuse Resistance Education (CARE) is a confidential support program offered at the high schools that provides a way for students to deal with problems that affect learning.) at our high schools, I filed a request under Wisconsin's Open Records Law for information concerning the facilitator of this program, the credentials by which this facilitator counsels students, what materials he/she uses, who the co-facilitator is, and further requested all correspondence between this individual and school administration/school board officials for last school year.
The Rainbow Connection, according to the West Bend West High School web site, is:
For gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) teens or those of you who are confused/questioning your sexual identity. Relatives of GLBT are also welcome. Completely confidential. Meets entire school year for discussion and support.
This comes on the heels of being assured by the WB School Board that there are no taxpayer-funded or school-sponsored sex clubs in our district.
Below is the letter I received concerning my request. I have removed the teacher's name for confidentiality purposes. Since questioning this program, the District has "stated" they have "discontinued" the club for this year, though it continues to be advertised on the West Bend High School District website.
WEST BEND JOINT SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 1
Education Service Center
735 South Main Street, West Bend, Wisconsin 53095-3962
Before responding to the specifics of your email, I want to share several concerns that have arisen as a result of the numerous requests you have made regarding XXXXXX. The District has been more than cooperative in providing information to you regarding his/her involvement with student groups, such as the GSA. However, in light of the prior questions you have asked, the questions posed here and your public records request directed at XXXXXX, the District questions what legitimate interest is being served by these inquiries. I am concerned that this situation is coming perilously close to being a case of harassing an employee because of his/her sexual orientation. The District will not be a party to any such harassment nor will it be responsible should legal action be initiated by the employee against you as a private citizen.
In addition, although you have the right to request public records under state law, the District is not obligated to create records, which is what you are asking us to do every time you request a response to another list of questions. Although I will answer the questions you have posed in this instance, it is time to close this matter and move on to the many important issues facing the District at this time --and which have not been given the time needed due to the amount of time that has been consumed with this one item.
1. There is not a CARE group around the issue of sexual orientation this year. There has been such a group in the past as research has shown that there is a correlation between chemical use and students struggling with issues of sexuality.
2. XXXXXX is an employee of the District. He/she is not a "direct representative" of the District or its high schools when he/she communicates with others via his/her personal blog, nor has he/she held himself/herself out as a representative of the District's high school on his/her personal blog. You are correct that XXXXXX is responsible for what he/she says on his/her personal blog, not the District, as he/she has used no District resources for his/her personal blog nor is she/he acting on behalf of the District. I do not know when the information you cite was posted on his website, and thus, cannot comment as to the accuracy of the information at the time it was posted.
3. As demonstrated by my emails that you have quoted, I have never said that XXXXXX "counseled" children.
4. There is no co-facilitator as there is no such group this year.
5. A list of the CARE groups for this year is not yet available for students.
6. I understand that you do not believe in any seXual orientation other than a heterosexual one; however, the fact of the matter is that there are others who do not share your view. The District is required by law to prevent an employee from being harassed in the workplace because of his/her sexual orientation. Our legal counsel has advised us that this obligation includes preventing an employee from being harassed not only by supervisors and co-workers, but also third parties. Thus, the District will not condone or participate in any action targeted at an employee because of his/her sexual oreintation or because he/she serves as an unpaid advisor to a group of students who have come together to support each other. The District has provided you with all relevant information on this matter and will not respond to any further inquiries regarding XXXXXX.
Kathryn L. Zarling, Ed.D
Administrator of Pupil Services
West Bend School District
1. The only information I requested concerning the GSA was quite some time ago and was simply a matter of how it was run and if it was funded by taxpayer money. Nothing more.
2. The District questions what legitimate interest is being served by these inquiries. This is an illegal question. According to Open Records Law, I do not need to GIVE A REASON for my inquiries. I do not even have to GIVE MY NAME when making such inquiries.
3. The District is saying that by having to answer taxpayer/parent questions via email and/or snail mail they are having to "create a record", and they are not obligated to so, therefore, they don't have to answer ANYONE'S questions if they choose not to.
4. The blog site referred to in this letter is one in which this co-facilitator actually states his/her involvement in the Rainbow Connection and GSA within our high schools. He/she makes such statements as:
"I hope we, as an entire community - L-G-B-T - can get back on track and fight together for equality in the workplace."
"Over the next week or so I'll be posting quite a bit about lots of different things - the annual Day of Silence, ENDA (Employment Non-Discrimination Act), some random musings, and the religious right and their activities in the district that I teach in."
"I WILL make sure that the LGBT youth I teach and encounter in the hallways of my high school are safe and valued for who they are. I WILL call into question and challenge policies made by my district and building administration that threaten the well-being of these students."
in addition to stating his/her involvement as a co-facilitator for the Rainbow Connection, which meets under the umbrella of the C.A.R.E. program.
My questions were simply "Is this TRUE?" and IF IT IS TRUE, then can you tell me the following.... (see questions in first paragraph of this post)
5. Though the Administrator of Pupil Services did not state that this person "counseled" children, neither did I. Since the Rainbow Connection and other C.A.R.E. clubs are to provide the children with support, one would naturally assume that meant counsel. That is a no-brainer.
6. This letter indicates what the District THNKS I believe about sexual orientation. I have never specifically stated my position publicly to the District. Though I obviously feel strongly about this subject, it is STILL an assumption on their part.
7. If I had asked these same questions about a facilitator for a Christian club or Jewish Club or Spanish Club, would I have received this same letter, claiming I am "harrassing" the individual? Guess we all know the answer to that one.
8. Since I asked about a GAY club sponsored with taxpayer money and the facilitator is GAY, the District states they cannot and WILL NOT provide answers to any questions whatsoever concerning him/her or their involvement in this program. Period. And by the way, I should watch out for a personal law suit, too.
This heavy-handed letter has every connotation of THREAT, INTIMIDATION AND HARASSMENT to a local citizen excercising their rights under the Wisconsin Open Records Law.
Trust me, J.B. already knows.