Group sues district for public records related to ethnic studies

Daily Post Staff Writer

A pro-Israel law firm has sued the Mountain View-Los Altos Union High School District for allegedly withholding records related to a pro-Palestinian consultant who was hired to train teachers on Ethnic Studies.

The Deborah Project, which has challenged California’s Ethnic Studies curriculum claiming it was antisemitic, filed a California Public Records Act request on Feb. 23 asking for training materials presented to teachers by Acosta Educational Partners, or AEP.

It’s been more than 14 weeks since then, and the district still hasn’t said whether it has any records or is working on the request, according to the lawsuit. The district is preventing the public from learning what is actually being taught, the lawsuit says.

Superintendent Nellie Meyer has declined interviews throughout the Ethnic Studies controversy and didn’t respond to another request for comment yesterday. The school board used a $45,000 state grant to hire AEP on Nov. 17. The contract was on the consent calendar, which is a list of items that can be approved on a single vote without discussion.

Board President Phil Faillace later said that the item’s description and place on the consent calendar misled the board into thinking it was non-controversial.

But in February, more than 400 people signed a petition saying that AEP should be fired for pushing anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic lessons.

AEP encourages teachers to “shut their doors” so they can push controversial material, and its owner, Curtis Acosta. Acosta is connected to the Teach Palestine Project, which parents said in a letter to the board is “a blatantly antisemitic source of lesson plans for teachers.”

“In modern America, Jews are too often dismissed as European colonizers or white people,” parent Mark Balch told the board. “We have every right to be treated with the same protections as any other ethnic group.”

Data on firing sought 

AEP was quietly fired after the meeting, but the Deborah Project wants to better understand what happened before then.

“While the contract was apparently terminated, no public information discloses whether AEP completed the work it was retained to do, what AEP work product or information was imparted to MV-LAUHSD and how that work product or information is being used,” attorney David DeGroot wrote in the lawsuit.

In its public records request, Deborah Project legal director Lori Lowenthal Marcus asked for records going back to Jan. 1, 2018, with eight key words: Ethnic Studies, Zionism, Zionists, Israel, Palestine, Palestinians, Arabs and Arab-Americans.

Missed the deadline 

The California Public Record Act gives agencies 10 days to give an initial response that says whether the records exist and how long it could take to gather them. The law allows for a 14-day extension if needed.

But the district took 34 days to give an initial response, according to he lawsuit.

“The district will require additional time to fully respond,” executive assistant Debbie Maher said in a March 29 email that was attached to the lawsuit.

Maher said she would get back to the Deborah Project by April 7, but the district still hasn’t responded, according to the lawsuit filed on June 7.

The Deborah Project is asking a judge to order the district to immediately produce the records, or to prepare a list of withheld records and show why they shouldn’t be released.