Montclair Board of Education Defends Subpoenas to Reveal Identity of Anonymous Blogger

School board says subpoenas do not imply guilt.

President of the Montclair Board of Education, Robin Kulwin. Photo credit: Teresa Akersten
President of the Montclair Board of Education, Robin Kulwin. Photo credit: Teresa Akersten

The Montclair Board of Education defended its decision to issue subpoenas to reveal the identity of an anonymous blogger Thursday by saying the intent was not to imply guilt or diminish the person's First Amendment rights. 

Earlier in the day, the school board faced an Essex County Superior Court Judge who temporarily quashed subpoenas issued by the board to Google and the hyperlocal website BaristaKids. The subpoenas, part of an investigation into a security breach involving student assessments, sought the name and contact information of "Assessmentgate," the pseudonym of an online poster who has been critical of the school board and the school district's administration. 

"Assessmentgate" was represented in court by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, which claimed the board of education did not have the authority to seek their client's identity and that doing so interfered with their client's freedom of speech.

Issuing subpoenas is "standard legal practice" in an investigation the school board said. "The subpoenas represent a reasonable expectation that the person/entity has information that may be relevant to determining how the assessments were made public."

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," Jeanne LoCicero, an attorney for the ACLU-NJ, said.

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Spotontarget December 05, 2013 at 10:19 PM
Great Robin Kulwin. Now get out of the investigation business. Ask the local, county or state DA to take it over. Whoever has jurisdiction. Smell the coffee politically, given the policy and "free speech" conflicts and let their be a real criminal investigation so that policy and personalities do not get merged with illegalities - as is becoming the case. Don't rotate bureaucratically about this. See all the crazies who have come out of their cages. Act smart and pass the baton gracefully to an independent investigation. Then go back to dealing with the underlying testing policy issue itself - independent of this fiasco.
I'd-Rather-Be-at-63 December 06, 2013 at 07:09 AM
What a completely dishonest and disingenuous response from the Montclair Board of Education Chairperson Robin Kulwin to the BoE's knowing attempts to unlawfully invade the privacy of the people of this town, to create fear and suspicion, and to prevent open and civil discussion on education policy in Montclair. One can only be ashamed to have these people representing education and leadership to the children in Montclair. It is disappointing to see people like Spotontarget defending the violation of fundamental civil rights while mocking the legitimacy and sincerity of those who are the victims. It has taken people like Spotontarget the embarrassment of a Superior Court case led by Assessmentgate and the ACLU to finally wake-up to the wrongdoings of this BoE that these "crazies in their cages" pointed out at the very get-go of this "fear investigation." Now Spotontarget wants to defend, even continue to praise, those who wipe their feat on the law and the Constitution minutes after saying the Pledge of Allegiance. Montclair: The Home of the Great Pretenders
jim December 06, 2013 at 10:45 AM
Wow I'd rather be 63, I fell asleep by the third line of your 18+ line diatribe. Ted Kaczynski gets to the point quicker than you. In essence the unnamed blogger is telling the School Board to kiss his Assessmentgate!
ira shor December 06, 2013 at 11:09 AM
Exactly right, 63. Board Pres. Kulwin has NOT provided any evidence that a criminal act caused release of the assessments, none. It is all innuendo and allegations. Perhaps Pres. Kulwin, the Board, and her Insider advisers think that repeating allegations often enough will make believable the unproven claim of illegal release of the exams. But, we DO NOT KNOW what actually happened, making allegations of illegal behavior worse than irresponsible and dishonest; such allegations mislead the public, justify the unconstitutional use of subpoenas to silence critics, spread fear to others inclined to criticize the Board and its Supt., distract attention from the Supt.'s negligence in securing this costly material($490K with the curriculum with escalating costs daily for the per-hour charges of the Board's private attorney). Such wasted tax funds should have gone to teaching and learning, not to a bogus investigation. If the Board cares about our kids and our town, it will immediately hand over this matter to the Essex County Attorney General whose job it is to investigate if any criminal act occurred or if this is a case of negligent oversight by Supt. MacCormack, or a routine scrape by a strange website from Russia which scrapes all kinds of matter. The Board has permitted and committed a troubling number of errors, failures, unethical and illegal acts in the last year, cause enough for them to resign or for the Mayor to finally step in and replace them, for the good of our kids, our property values dependent on the reputation of our schools, and out town's civic life now threatened by an out-of-control Board wielding illegal subpoenas.
Spotontarget December 06, 2013 at 01:58 PM
I'd-Rather-Be-at-63 - there you go again. Now putting words in my mouth. Let's be clear, it is not a certainty that the BOE is procedurally wrong to conduct this investigation based on the law they are operating under. It may prove to be technically unlawful, but it's not the slam dunk world into abuse of power and McCarthyism where you and some others have gone. You are completely off the deep end on this one. They may have a technical problem as I read the details and therefore their subpoenas would not be enforceable. A judge will have to rule on that. But clearly an investigation should be undertaken by the right party to find out who posted the tests - likely a criminal act. And that does mean reviewing potentially some anonymous bloggers who might have links to whoever "stole" them. - if that is really the case. Only an investigation would reveal this. Instead, what I did advocate is that POLITICALLY instead, the BOE would be wise to leave that investigation work to a D.A. and therefore the police. Why? So as not to confuse issues and give people like you - who are always right and speak to god on education policy knowing everyone else is wrong -- more ammunition to distort and merge criminality, philosophical disagreement, educational best practices and your set in stone views of how a public board should act according to the world of I'd-Rather-Be-at-63 . Let the police and D.A. determine if there was a criminal act and let the BOE deal with education policy while cooperating with the authorities to find out if they were "robbed" of their testing services. That is my position. However, if I were a sadist, I would actually not want them to pass off the investigation and instead be found correct by the judge procedurally. Then we could all have fun playing back your language how horrible the Board was acting outside of the law - and knock you off your high horse - when they really were not. But the BOE should still get of investigating this for a variety of reasons for their own sake. So I do hope they see the light and will pass it off.


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