Assessmentgate Will Answer Questions Anonymously

Montclair Board of Education settles with ACLU-NJ.

The Montclair Board of Education agrees to settle with the ACLU-NJ. Photo credit: Teresa Akersten
The Montclair Board of Education agrees to settle with the ACLU-NJ. Photo credit: Teresa Akersten
The Montclair Board of Education agreed to a settlement with the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey Monday that will keep the identity of an anonymous blogger protected in exchange for the blogger talking. 

The school board voted 6-1 at Monday night's public board meeting to settle with the ACLU-NJ, which asked a Superior Court judge earlier this month to temporarily quash a subpoena issued by the BOE as part of an investigation into leaked student assessments. 

The agreement states the board will not seek the identity of their client, who goes by the pseudonym "Assessmentgate", and that the online poster agrees to answer questions anonymously. 

The school board issued a subpoena to Google last month asking for the identity of "Assessmentgate", who used a Google gmail account to blog on this website, as well as open Facebook and Twitter accounts.

The online poster has been a sharp critic of the school board and the school administration on social media as well as on BaristaKids, which was also issued a subpoena seeking the identity of Assessmentgate and three other commenters who have been critical of the board.

The ACLU's attorneys claimed their client had nothing to do with the 14 tests which ended up on a public website in late October just days before they were to be administered.

The security breach compromised the integrity of the assessments, which were created over the summer by teams of teachers who were paid nearly a half-million for their work.

The ACLU said revealing the poster's identity was in conflict with freedom of speech rights and that the school board was not authorized to issue subpoenas for this purpose according to state law.

Anne Mernin, the newest school board member, cast the sole dissenting vote. 

Mernin said she could see why some members of the public felt the investigation was targeting those who are critical of the school board. 

"I think it raised reasonable doubts in the public’s mind and could be perceived as a way that the board would discourage criticism from the public."

Board member Leslie Larson said there was no intention to uncover the board's critics.

"There was no direction from the board to go after critics of the board," Larson said. "That was never the intent."

A total of six subpoenas were issued as part of the investigation, Mark Tabakin, the attorney representing the school board, said Monday. 

In addition to Google and the community website Baristakids, one school board member, David Cummings, was subpoenaed.

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Montclair's Own December 17, 2013 at 07:11 AM
So, despite the fact that Assessmentgate's lawyer has stated their client has had nothing to do with the release of documents (and there is obviously no legal backing to prove-so, or else charges may have been filed), the BOE still wants to talk with this individual…why? To find out why they are a critic?
Brian Ford December 17, 2013 at 09:30 AM
i could see maybe why A'gate would want to get the court stuff over with and then just answer their questions and be done with it... i might do the same in their position...part of me want to tell them to go screw and tell them to prove why there is compelling evidence that i have some information, make them drag it through the courts and embarrass themselves further...but that's also a waste of time and money...still, bad message: we slap a subpoena willy-nilly, throw sh*t at the wall and see what sticks, you just say screw it, easier to talk then do the court BS...they get someone to answer questions by badgering them w/the BS...
esther January 12, 2014 at 04:43 PM
My concern is the ACLU dropped the ball. Isn't there a right to free speech? Why has the Board successfully quashed all naysayers and critics? This has been a witch hunt and we know how the one in the 1600's turned out.
I'd-Rather-Be-at-63 January 13, 2014 at 02:46 PM
esther your concern is well founded. However, it was also complicated. The ACLU did find a real case for the threatening of free speech in Monclair by the Montclair Board of Education. At the same time, Assessmentgate was the first person targeted by a subpoena that was actually served as well as issued. Quite amazingly, after the Superior Court Judge Thomas R. Vena gave a resounding first round victory to Assessmentgate, he/she and the ACLU decided to accept the MBoE's offer (need) to negotiate. It was a huge mistake on both the part of Assessmentgate and the ACLU, but neither was really open to going the full distance for a clear court decision to show just how badly this group of unelected people had gone in breaking the law and defiling the Constitution. It is unfortunate. Not only were innocent people hurt and forced to spend their personal money on defending themselves, but it has allowed this group to stay in office and continue to ignore the law. Again tonight they will do the same thing, ignoring the Open Meeting Law of New Jersey and discussing secretly how they conspired around their witches brew and how they wasted public money. It is truly amazing that people can so flagrantly break the law and harm others with no repercussions. The local press in Montclair is also playing a role in overtly helping the MBoE to whitewash its behavior and silence the remaining critics.


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