After marathon 4 hours session with contentious split public comments, the School Committee instead directed its counsel to seek mediation to try to resolve the dispute before taking any other steps.
Nicole Solas is the mother whose child is enrolled to enter kindergarten in the South Kingstown, Rhode Island, school district.
On June 1, 2021, Nicole went public in a post at Legal Insurrection about threats to possibly sue her from the South Kingstown School Committee after she filed a series of public record requests concerning Critical Race and Gender theory in public schools, I’m A Mom Seeking Records Of Critical Race and Gender Curriculum, Now The School Committee May Sue To Stop Me:
I am a mother in the South Kingstown School District in Rhode Island investigating through public records requests how critical race and gender theories are integrated into lessons, school policies, and contracts. Now the School Committee is considering suing me to stop me….
My school committee now is considering suing me because I submitted a lot of public records requests to get answers to my questions which the School District would not answer. This same school committee which told me to use a statutorily prescribed process to obtain one piece of information (curriculum) is now having a public meeting to discuss suing me for using the same statutorily prescribed process to obtain other information. The message was clear: ask too many questions about your child’s education and we will come after you….
I suspect the South Kingstown School Department is displeased that a parent has found a way to legally compel responses to difficult questions surrounding CRT and gender theory in public school. I suspect they are also displeased about my criticism of the antiracism policy and appointment and hiring policy, both of which are under review and breathtakingly racist….
This shameful retaliation against a parent who demand transparency from public schools will not be tolerated. Every parent needs to keep asking questions. Every parent needs to submit more public records requests when they do not receive answers to their questions from school leaders. Hold your elected representatives accountable and do not allow them to prevent you from protecting and advocating for your children.
If the school system starts to bully you because you are asking too many questions, then you’re winning. Don’t give up.
Nicole’s post has gained a lot of attention, including an appearance on June 2, 2021, on Fox and Friends:
Rhode Island ACLU Executive Director Steve Brown told GoLocal on Tuesday he believes the South Kingstown School Committee’s response is “inappropriate.”
“I can certainly understand the difficulties facing a municipal body when confronted with such a huge number of APRA requests in a short period of time,” said Brown “However, I am also hopeful that, upon consideration, the school committee will recognize that suing a resident for this activity is not an appropriate response.”
Additional outlets included The Daily Wire, The Washington Examiner, Real Clear Politics, Yahoo News, MSN, The UK Independent, and The Providence Journal, which detailed some vicious personal attacks from the school committee chairperson and local unions:
The committee’s chairwoman said Wednesday the requests were part of a national strategy of a “racist group.” ….
South Kingstown School Committee Chairwoman Emily Cummiskey described the possible suit Wednesday as a “potential injunction” to blunt “a nationally-organized, racist group [attempting] to create chaos and intimidate our district. …This is their MO nation-wide and I anticipate other districts in our state will soon experience the same unfortunate influx we have.”
Cummiskey did not name the group….
In a statement earlier Wednesday, Cummiskey said while “information is a core value of our district, these requests are over-the-top.”
“More than 200 APRA requests have been filed by a single individual in just the last few weeks alone,” she said, “demanding more than 300 hours of our district’s time to these records requests” and distracting from “efforts to make our schools more equitable, inclusive, and empowering by eradicating any harmful practices or prejudices through equity and anti-racism teachings.”
Cummiskey said, “It’s disappointing, and extremely disheartening, to see an individual, particularly one without a child in our schools, work so hard to harm these efforts, and in turn, send a message to our students and families that anti-racism education is not valued. Racism and hate have no place in our district.”
(Solas has a young daughter who will enter kindergarten next year.)
In response to Cummiskey’s statements Solas told the Journal: “’Equity’ is CRT codeword for discriminating based on race to achieve equal outcomes. The School Committee should focus on ‘equality,’ treating students without regard to race. Why is the School Committee so obsessed with treating students based on skin color? We need answers, not lawsuits against parents.”
Timothy Ryan, lobbyist for the Rhode Island Association of School Superintendents, identified the group responsible for bombarding school officials with public records requests as Parents Defending Education.
“They want to cripple” the South Kingstown schools as officials are busy with next year’s budget and pandemic rules, he said.
“Attacking programs that promote respect for individuals of different races and backgrounds in un-American,” said Ryan. Parents Defending Education is “clearly demonstrating what they believe and who they are.”
Parents Defending Education describes itself on its website as “a national grassroots organization working to reclaim our schools from activists imposing harmful agendas.”
The Providence Journal appears to be referring, at least in part, to a Facebook post (archive) by Cummiskey “To our South Kingstown School families,” attacking Solas. Based on comments by one of the audience members at the public hearing (see below), it appears that some version of that statement (maybe the statement itself) was emailed to town residents.
Parents Defending Education is the national group run by Nikki Neily and Asra Nomani, each of whom has been on Legal Insurrection Foundation webinar panels about CRT in education. Not that it should matter, but neither one is “white.” To call Parents Defending Education “racist” is nothing short of outrageous.
The School Committed met tonight, including on the agenda item about whether to sue Nicole.
After opening the meeting, the Committee went into Executive Session for over almost an hour. When they returned, a statement similar to Cummiskey’s Facebook post and statements in the Providence Journal were read out loud (I think by Cummiskey, but it was hard to tell from the live feed who was speaking). The person specifically called Parents Defending Education racist in the open meeting. One of the speakers (I think the Superintendent, not sure) said legal told them there wasn’t any real way to stop it, other than perhaps a lawsuit.
They indicated there were 251 requests since April 25, about 50 of which were not from Nicole.
There were numerous disruptions from people in attendance, but the live feed did not permit seeing or hearing what they were saying or who was disruptions.
Slides were shown breaking down the types of requests:
They also brought up requests from Parents Defending Education.
The committee, in response to a question from one of the committee members (it’s hard to tell who is speaking), indicated there had been no attempt to resolve this with Nicole prior to putting it on the meeting agenda.
Nicole was the first person to speak during public comment. Her statement was a short version of her prior statements, and that the entire point of singling her out for a public meeting was to try to humiliate her, but it didn’t work. Listen below:
There were many other public comments, some supportive but many what you would expect from supporters of CRT. I’d say the in-person comments were evenly split, the zoom comments were mostly against Nicole. The public comment period went on for over two hours.
The committee’s lawyer said if there is a legal action, it would seek an injunction.
There was a motion by one of the committee members NOT to sue, and to direct counsel to seek mediation. The motion passed unanimously.
[You can watch the entire livestream at this link [good only until the next meeting], jump ahead to the 57 minute mark for where the open session started.]
(Added) Here is a video of the entire open session. The public comments start at about th 1 hr. mark.DONATE
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