Glenda Ritz sues Indiana Board of Education

Glenda Ritz
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Indiana's schools chief is suing the state's Board of Education.

In a press release issued Tuesday, Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz is alleging violations of the Open Door Law by ten members of the Board of Education.

The lawsuit alleges that the named members of the State Board violated Indiana's Open Door Law by taking action in secret by drafting a letter they sent to President Pro Tempore Long and Speaker Bosma dated October 16, 2013. The suit seeks to prevent the State Board of Education from continued violations of the Open Door Law and declaratory relief.

The move comes after problem-plagued ISTEP+ testing in the spring led to delays in results. Those results play a key role for Indiana schools. Ritz claims she was wrongfully shut out of the review process.

Gov. Mike Pence issued this statement:

"Governor Pence strongly supports the actions taken by the bipartisan membership of the State Board of Education to ensure the timely completion of last year's A-F school accountability grades. The Governor is confident that all relevant Indiana laws were followed. Because teachers and schools depend on these letter grades for salary increases, performance bonuses and federal funding, the Governor will continue to work in good faith with the State Board of Education and the Indiana Department of Education to get the job done for our schools and our kids."

Earlier this month, Ritz said she expected her opponents to attempt to remove her as chairwoman of the Indiana Board of Education. She pointed to Gov. Mike Pence's creation of a new education agency as evidence of a broader effort to strip her of power.
Pence has said the new agency's purpose is to coordinate career training.
Tension has grown in the last month between Ritz and Dan Elsener, a board member and supporter of education reforms championed by Indiana Republicans. The two have fought recently over procedural motions at the state board meetings and bigger items, including the creation of a strategic planning committee that met for the first time this month.

Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane (D-Anderson) and Indiana House Democratic Leader Scott Pelath (D-Michigan City) also commented Tuesday on the release of the state's A-F school grades.

"In a meeting open to the public, The Department of Education candidly laid out their expectation to deliver A-F grading data no later than Thanksgiving. According to Department officials, the results were being held so any parent wishing to contest their student's ISTEP scores were given due time to complete an appeal. Not once during these public meetings were concerns raised by parents, teachers, administrators, or anyone for that matter, regarding the timeliness of the results.

Considering that 80,000 Hoosiers students experienced ISTEP testing disruptions this year, the controversy surrounding the previous administration's careless grading methodology and that the Department's timetable puts the release of school grades at most 20 business days behind last year's release, we'd say we are right on track.

Regrettably, some believe achieving political victory trumps ensuring Hoosier students, teachers and local schools receiving the grade they rightfully earned.

Instead of working with the Department, the Pence-appointed Board of Education has prodded Republican legislative leadership to subvert the process, and in doing so, unashamedly trampled state law and politicized the traditionally non-partisan Legislative Services Agency.

The statute is clear, the Department of Education and the Superintendent have the sole authority to assess and determine school accountability grades. Any other interpretation is a disingenuous attempt to sidestep the letter of the law.

Hoosier students deserve to know the grades they worked for are accurate. Parents and teachers deserve the satisfaction of knowing their hard work paid off. Elevating cheap politics over ensuring accuracy is a far cry from what Hoosiers expect."

About the Ritz lawsuit

The lawsuit alleges that ten members of the State Board violated Indiana's Open Door Law when they took action by requesting that Senator Long and Speaker Bosma appoint Indiana's Legislative Services Agency to perform calculations to determine the 2012-2013 A-F grades for Indiana schools. The suit alleges that no public notice was issued for a meeting that allowed for this action and that Superintendent Ritz was not made aware of this action until after it was taken, despite her role as Chair of the State Board of Education.

"When I was sworn in to office, I took an oath to uphold the laws of the State of Indiana," said Superintendent Ritz. "I take this oath very seriously and I was dismayed to learn that other members of the State Board have not complied with the requirements of the law. While I respect the commitment and expertise of members of the board individually, I feel they have over-stepped their bounds.

"Since my inauguration, I have worked tirelessly to communicate openly with the Board and the public. I do not take this action lightly, but my obligations as elected state Superintendent require it. I look forward to continuing to work to improve education for all Indiana students in a fair, transparent and collaborative manner."

The suit is Ritz v. Elsener, et al and it has been filed in the Marion Circuit Court. The cause number is 49C01-1310-PL-038953. The Department of Education is using in-house counsel to avoid any additional costs to the state.