Correction: This article originally stated that Montclair School Board Member Shelley Lombard was issued a subpoena. While information was requested of her as part of the investigation, she had not been subpoenaed.
An Essex County Superior Court Judge on Thursday temporarily quashed subpoenas issued by the Montclair Board of Education which would uncover the identity of "Assessmentgate," the pseudonym of an online poster who has been critical of the school board and the school district's administration.
The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey representing “Assessmentgate” filed a complaint against the school board earlier this week claiming exposing the identity of their client would cause irreparable harm and violate free speech rights.
The ACLU-NJ also argues the subpoenas are unconstitutional saying the school board does not have the legal authority to issue subpoenas unless it is conducting a hearing regarding a school law dispute.
Jeanne LoCicero, an attorney for the ACLU-NJ, said the board of education has limited authority and does not have a right to seek this information. But even if they did, LoCicero said, it is still a matter of freedom of speech.
“The New Jersey constitution protects the rights of everyone to engage in anonymous speech,” Jeanne LoCicero, an attorney for the ACLU-NJ said. “We have the right to speak on matters of public concern and to do so anonymously.”
The subpoenas were issued as part of an investigation into a security breach of a password-protected teacher portal in October. The breach led to more than a dozen student assessments appearing on a public website just days before they were to be administered.
The assessments created to comply with new Common Core State Standards have been the subject of tension between the school board and superintendent and a contingent of teachers, parents and local residents.
ACLU-NJ claims their client played no role in the leaking of the assessments.
Requests for comment to the Montclair Board Education were not returned by Thursday afternoon. (Update: Montclair School Board response.)
One subpoena was issued to Google because “Assessmentgate” uses a gmail account to blog anonymously on this website, as well as to post on Facebook and Twitter. Another was issued to the editor-in-chief of the community website BaristaKids, where “Assessmentgate” has left negative comments about both the school board and the administration.
In his order Thursday, Superior Court Judge Thomas R. Vena asked both sides to return to court on Jan. 9 to make their cases.
"We believe they should come forward with sufficient evidence justifying the need for the information," LoCicero said.
Montclair Board of Education member Shelly Lombard said while she was not issued a subpoena she supplied the information that was requested of her, including emails.
"There are some people who think this is a witch hunt and it’s a waste time," Lombard said. "I get the sense that some people are unhappy that we are investigating."
Lombard said while she didn't know exactly who has been issued subpoenas, she said she supported the investigation because of the nature of the security breach.
“It’s our responsibility to investigate this because this is a theft — just as if somebody broke into our schools and stole hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of computer equipment.”