As an illustration of the sheer arrogance of Louisiana Superintendent of Education John White, LouisianaVoice is providing an exchange of emails between us, White, and Louisiana Attorney General’s office and our attorney, J. Arthur Smith of Baton Rouge.
Folks, there is no better example of just how this administration, personified by the likes of White, his boss, Gov. Bobby Jindal, all but two members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, and a few of Jindal’s choice cabinet members and certain legislators who shall for the time being remain nameless, has nothing but contempt for the voters of this state.
After all, where would Jindal rather be—in Baton Rouge or gallivanting all over the country in futile pursuit of the presidency? (Hint: it ain’t Baton Rouge.)
But now it seems that the national media is finally catching onto his act. An op-ed piece in Monday’s Washington Post said that Jindal’s rise in the ranks of the party illustrates that Republican reform is all cosmetic, so much rhetorical hogwash, smokes and mirrors. (But if you insist on latching onto Jindal’s sophomoric grandstanding as candy for your political sweet tooth, then knock yourself out.)
But back to Mr. White.
On January 22, we made the following public records request:
Any communication with or information relevant to Louisiana’s association or business conduct with any corporation or entity owned, led by or associated with Iwan Streichenberger;
Any communication or discussion relevant to the sharing of confidential student information for the purpose of developing and marketing “learning products” or for any other purpose;
All communication and/or contracts relevant to current or future association with Gates Foundation or its subsidiaries.
• Any communication with or information relevant to Louisiana’s association or business conduct with any corporation or entity owned, led by or associated with Iwan Streichenberger.
• Any communication or discussion relevant to the sharing of confidential student information for the purpose of developing and marketing “learning products” or for any other purpose.
• All communication and/or contracts relevant to current or future association with Gates Foundation or its subsidiaries.
• Written communications and contracts containing the phrase “shared Learning Collaborative” or “SLC.”
• Written communications containing the phrase “Wireless Generation.”
• Written communications containing the phrase “Iwan Streichenberger.”
• Written communications and contracts containing the phrase “Gates Foundation.”
Subsequent to that request, we made additional requests for:
• A list of the number of Teach for America teachers employed in each parish in the state.
• A list of complaints about the Louisiana Department of Education’s web page that White said prompted his decision to revamp the page to its current unnavigable mish mash of a web page that is about as user friendly as a sidesaddle on a Hampshire hog.
Of course the latter requests were ignored with all the same efficiency as the original requests. We know that John White personally received the requests because we get read receipts on all outgoing emails and we know the instant our emails are opened and read by the recipient.
And we save all our read receipts just in case the need should ever arise to have them—say in a civil lawsuit against the department.
At 3:41 p.m. on Tuesday (Feb. 19—28 days after our initial request), we sent the following email to our attorney (and copied White and Attorney General James “Buddy” Caldwell):
Art, this request is almost a month old. By law, state agencies (the Department of Education included) have three days in which to produce requested records or provide a date and time they will be available for inspection. The department has done nothing to provide these records other than send me a B.S. letter. I might overlook this if it were an isolated case, but this has been repeated time and again. I’m weary of playing their little games and I’m ready to file suit against John White and the Department of Education. I don’t want to file only to have them provide the records. I want to pursue this to seek my court costs, my attorney fees and any applicable fines. The Monroe News Star filed suit and White cratered and provided the records and nothing further was done. I don’t want that. I want to extract penalties for non-compliance or they’ll just repeat the procedure the next time I make a public records request.
Please file the necessary litigation immediately. I will pay the filing fee but I want the Department of Education to reimburse me.
My receipt indicated that White opened and read our email at precisely 3:44 p.m.
At 3:50 p.m. Tuesday, I received the following response from attorney Art Smith:
Gotcha. Will be glad to do.
Then, beginning at 6:20 p.m. and continuing through 6:43 p.m. we began receiving the first of what would ultimately be eight separate emails containing 119 pages of emails and other data from the Department of Education, some of which addressed our requests and others that did not.
Those responses that did not address our specific requests, however, were quite revealing. Because White made such a big production of the complaints he said he received about the old format of the department’s web page which led to the complete revamp of the page, we decided to call his bluff and ask for those complaints.
What we got instead of complaints about the old web page was a stream of complaints about the current format, including one writer who, in the email’s subject line wrote “YOUR NEWLY DESIGNED WEBSITE SUCKS,” and who then proceeded to chastise the department for the misspelling of “recieve.” (Yep, that’s the way your new DOE website spells receive.) “For crying out loud, USE YOUR SPELLCHECKER!” the Monroe critic wrote, adding, “Please correct this and make this site professional, not juvenile.”
Another wrote: “Many of your links lead to errors. Come on, man!”
“I am unable to locate information that I need to do my job. If we no longer have a website that is user friendly, what are we expected to do?” asked another.
Strangely, however, there were no complaints provided by White about the old web site even though he said the changes were made pursuant to “many complaints” about the old site.
Unimpressed with White’s last-minute attempt to head off unpleasant litigation, we followed up with another email at 9:37 p.m., again copying our attorney and Caldwell:
Mr. White, I am in receipt of eight separate emails from your office which purport to provide the information I requested (itemized below).
I can’t help but notice, however, that absent from the 117 pages you provided me under threat of litigation (which remains a valid option) were responses to requests 1, 2, and 6.
Please, without further delay, provide:
1) Any communications in any form or contracts relative to the “Shared Learning Collaborative” or SLC, a project of the Gates Foundation.
2) Information regarding Louisiana’s participation in Phase I of the above project.
6) All communication and/or contracts relevant to current or future association with Gates Foundation or its subsidiaries.
Because of the stalling tactics employed by you and the department, I shall not grant you the customary three days waiting period for this information inasmuch as it has already been 28 days since my initial request.
Litigation shall follow if this information is not provided by the close of business Wednesday, February 20, 2013.
White opened and read our latest email at 9:43 p.m.
We’ll keep you posted on developments and if anyone wishes copies of the emails that were provided, we will be happy to provide them electronically at no cost. Just contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org