Government Transparency Advocates Celebrate Win in Open Records Lawsuit Against Wisconsin District

Tuesday’s ruling is the second time a judge has reprimanded Mequon-Thiensville Schools over its email secrecy.
Close Up of Wooden Gavel
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(The Center Square)  —  Mequon-Thiensville Schools are now 0-2 in court cases over its email lists.

A judge in Ozaukee County on Tuesday ruled that the school district cannot withhold its alumni, recreation department, and Momentum newsletter recipients emails lists.

Mequon Alderman Mark Gierl filed an open records request for the email lists, but was initially denied.

“I find it shameful that MTSD wastes taxpayers’ money to defend their illegal conduct. They brazenly and repeatedly disregard the law,” he said last year.

Gierl made the request as a private citizen, not as an alderman.

Not that it matters, public information is public information according to Tom Kamenick, president and founder of the Wisconsin Transparency Project.

“Government records are our records,” Kamenick said. “That goes for distribution lists government officials use to send out its preferred messages, as the Attorney General has advised for decades.”

Tuesday’s ruling is the second time a judge has reprimanded Mequon-Thiensville Schools over its email secrecy.

A judge in November of last year ordered the school district to turn over its email list for parents.

Gierl said Mequon-Thiensville Schools were using the email lists to reach out to parents to advocate for a presentation called “The Talk: A Necessary Conversation on Privilege and Race with Our Children.”

That presentation touched on the “spectrum of racism,” the “phenomenon of the George Floyd Case” and how to “become a powerful ally.”

The judge in that case said the school district was trying to “advocate for social change.”

Mequon-Thiensville Schools appealed that ruling, and are expected to appeal the latest ruling as well.

The school district said in the past that sharing its email list would be too much work, and “would significantly impact the district’s ability to protect the privacy interests of parents and interested parties who provide us with personal information for the sole purpose of supporting the academic interests of their students.”

On Tuesday, the judge in the case ruled that “the balancing test” favored disclosure of the email addresses, and that Gierl’s request was not burdensome because it generated only a few dozen responsive email messages.

This story was originally published by The Center Square and used with permission.

Benjamin Yount
Benjamin Yount writes for The Center Square.

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