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Activist Sues Chicago Public Schools For Records Of Troy LaRaviere's Ouster

By aaroncynic in News on Sep 8, 2016 7:11PM

Demonstrators in front of Chicago Public Schools headquarters on Madison Street during the Chicago Teachers Union "day of action" on April 1, 2016. Photo by Aaron Cynic.

A local activist has filed a lawsuit against the Chicago Public Schools, claiming the District has dodged Freedom of Information Act requests for records related to the ouster of former Blaine Elementary School Principal Troy LaRaviere.

“Government agencies stonewall the public because they think they can get away with it. They can't,” said Nick Burt, the plaintiff in the suit. “If CPS is terminating educators because they are critical of the mayor's wasteful and ineffective school privatization agenda, the public has the right to know.”

LaRaviere, an oft vocal and fiery critic of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, was removed from his position as Principal of Blaine elementary in April one month after appearing in an ad for former Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. He was later named President of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association in May, but continued to contest his dismissal at Blaine until the end of August when he resigned.

“The flimsy charges you’ve leveled against me-combined with the recent elevation of my school as the #1 neighborhood school in Chicago-makes it obvious that your actions against me have everything to do with politics and nothing to do with what’s good for students and families,” LaRaviere wrote in his resignation letter, which he posted publicly on his blog. “Therefore the point that I wished to make in the hearing process, has already been made-loudly and clearly.”

Burt filed the FOIA requests for records in April, which were first denied by CPS’s FOIA officer for being “unduely burdensome.” According to emails from the District, the broad initial request would’ve encompassed its more than 30,000 employees. Burt then narrowed his request to 18 specific employees with a handful of search terms related to LaRaviere and Bernie Sanders, which the District contended was still too burdensome, as it alleged the narrowed request would’ve yielded more than 6,000 results.

Burt further narrowed the request, but CPS simply stopped responding. According to Dan Massoglia of MK Law, the firm representing Burt, a June letter from the Office of the Attorney General to the District demanding an official response also went unanswered.

“CPS has willfully and intentionally violated the law by its serially uncommunicative pattern of conduct related to requests for information about Principal Troy LaRaviere and Senator Bernie Sanders,” reads the complaint. “Whether CPS' repeatedly ignoring communications from a member of the public and from government oversight bodies is a product of the actions of individual employees or a result of budgetary priority, it is, under the act, willful and intentional.”

Burt says while he wouldn't speculate as to what, if anything, CPS might be trying to conceal, its non-compliance with laws regarding FOIA doesn't dampen his curiosity.

"When an institution as mired in conflict and controversy as CPS ousts one of its highest-profile critics, it can't help but look suspicious," said Burt. "Politically motivated firings, if that's what it was, can have a chilling effect on educator activism and outspokenness, at a time when such dissent is necessary to save our city's schools."

We’ve reached out to CPS for comment and will update when they respond.