Portland, Oregon — An Oregon lawmaker is on a mission to pass a new law targeting Kim Sordyl, a Portland mom, and Democrat, for being outspoken about problems plaguing Portland Public Schools (PPS), which include the district agreeing to remove student rights and to violate public records laws to protect sexual predators.
“Make no mistake: Kim is being targeted. Portland Public Schools is protecting pedophiles instead of our kids,” said Republican communications consultant Jonathan Lockwood. “Did Rep. Doherty explain to her fellow Democrats on the committee what she was dragging them into?”
The bill, House Bill 4013, which seeks to eject Sordyl from the state school board, caused a showdown last week in the House Education Committee and was heard last Monday, February 12, 2018.
“Get in line,” Sordyl tweeted last week when she first found out about the bill from state Rep. Julie Parrish, R-West Linn. “Administrators have already tried. I’ll continue demanding students become top priority in (Oregon) education. (Administrators and) unions had priority (for too) long. It’s time for a culture shift.”
Sordyl was appointed by the secretary of state as a non-voting member of the school board to represent the nonpartisan office.
The Oregonian’s editorial board said, “there’s simply no reason to change the law.” According to the Portland Tribune story, they wrote, Doherty said board members have to deal with sensitive information.
Recently in Tigard, which Doherty represents, Marcus D. Jolley, a former Tigard High School teacher and coach, and former Sherwood Middle School associate principal, has been arrested by Tigard Police on sex abuse charges.
Sordyl says this is an example in Doherty’s own community of the kind of criminal activity that is perpetuated by turning a blind eye to the serious problems facing our school system.
“Revoking student legal rights to file sex abuse complaints is unacceptable. Violating public records laws to hide teacher misconduct is unacceptable. The board just took us ten steps backward in terms of student safety,” Sordyl said on Facebook.
PPS approved a three-year deal with its teachers, turning the page on the district’s long struggle with teacher relations, but when they did so they declined the public to testify when it met to approve the deal.
Some said they felt that certain provisions would make it harder for parents and the public to find out about dangerous teachers put on so-called “administrative leave.”
So in response to Doherty’s excuse for the bill?
“That’s hardly a rationale, particularly considering that by law the governor appoints members of the community – not her own staff – to also serve on the board. The idea here is that the board and the department benefit from having regular members of the public who are passionate about education provide their input and opinions – even if they don’t rubber stamp what state education staff might put forward,” The Oregonian editorial board continued. “And considering the condition of Oregon’s education system, the lack of progress in graduation rates, continuing achievement gaps, board members and department staff might want to focus on growing thicker skin and recognizing that criticism can be a good thing. Because certainly, the status quo has not been.”
Nathan Dahlin, a Beaverton resident, offered testimony last week saying that as a taxpayer he “expects transparency, honesty, bipartisanship and a diversity of opinion on state boards,” and called it “absolutely outrageous” that Doherty is sponsoring the legislation. And Lindsay Berschauer, a Newburg resident, added that while they “are not members of the same political party,” but that “as a mother, and someone who pays taxes to fund public education, I absolutely find her a breath of fresh air in a bureaucracy that is used to being protected and excused.”
Berschauer charged that Doherty’s attempt to “silence” Sordyl “is pathetic and transparent.”
“Trust me: Kim won’t be silenced. She has gained the trust and respect of hundreds of parents, across every political party, because of her willingness to seek the truth and protect our children. Her champions will only grow louder. I have personally witnessed her fight to expose sexual misconduct in our schools, to improve air quality and prevent students from dangerous levels of exposure to toxins, to push back against bullying, and to fight for more transparency of where our tax dollars go in funding public education,” Berschauer continued in her offered testimony.
PPS came under national fire last year for going after Sordyl and a reporter, to stonewall public records requests. Richardson announced last year that he would be auditing the school district citing the district’s high-profile problems and their lawsuit. The Associated Press (AP) reported on the disturbing trend of governments going after private citizens who make public records requests.
Senate Minority Whip Dennis Linthicum last year applauded the secretary of state’s audit of PPS and said that it is a disturbing trend in Oregon to withhold public records requests from people seeking the truth.
“We are witnessing a disturbing pattern in government where the government is going after private entities and is intimidating people to suppress the truth,” said Linthicum in a press release. “I applaud the secretary of state and moms like Kim Sordyl, who are working hard to shine a light on this shadowy, gangster government.”
“The lawsuits generally ask judges to rule that the records being sought do not have to be divulged,” the AP wrote. “They name the requesters as defendants but do not seek damage awards. Still, the recent trend has alarmed freedom-of-information advocates, who say it’s becoming a new way for governments to hide information, delay disclosure and intimidate critics.”
“This practice essentially says to a records requester, ‘File a request at your peril,'” said University of Kansas journalism professor Jonathan Peters, who wrote about the issue for the Columbia Journalism Review in 2015, before several more cases were filed, as cited in the AP. “These lawsuits are an absurd practice and noxious to open government.”
According to the AP, in April, the Portland school district filed a lawsuit against Sordyl. She sought to unveil the truth about district employees “on leave” for alleged misconduct. Her request came “after the disclosure that one psychologist had been off for three years,” wrote the AP.
Sordyl told the AP that she believes the information will expose costly missteps by district human resources officials and lawyers, and the district attorney has already ordered the records to be released.
“They are going to great lengths to protect themselves and their own mismanagement. This is retaliation,” Sordyl, who hired an attorney, told the AP. “Most people would give up.”
“A transplant from the Detroit area, Sordyl’s vitriol, and personal attacks may be unusual and uncomfortable to a district used to ‘Portland nice,’” wrote the Portland Tribune’s Shasta Kearns Moore of Sordyl.
“It doesn’t feel very Portland-like. But it still needs to be done,” school board member Paul Anthony, told the Portland Tribune. “I think the important thing is that Kim has, from the very beginning, really brought a spotlight to management issues. Those are really important, and that’s an area that the district has been very weak for many, many years.”