A judge ruled Oct. 19 that Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School teacher Yvette Felarca cannot block Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, from releasing documents about Felarca to conservative advocacy group Judicial Watch.
As first reported by Berkeleyside, Judicial Watch filed a California Public Records Act, or CPRA, request in October 2017 asking BUSD to send any communications mentioning the words “Felarca,” “antifa,” “By All Means Necessary” and “BAMN,” in addition to Felarca’s personnel file.
Felarca, a member of activist organization By Any Means Necessary, or BAMN, filed a lawsuit with two other MLK Middle School staff members in 2017 in response to the CPRA request.
According to a court document, the plaintiffs argued that releasing the documents would violate their privacy and freedom of speech. The plaintiffs also alleged that BUSD’s actions caused “alarm and fear” among some teachers and staff at the middle school, who are fearful of expressing political opinions.
District judge Vince Chhabria denied the lawsuit on the stance that providing the documents to Judicial Watch would not violate the plaintiffs’ First or Fourth Amendment rights, according to court documents. Additionally, the judge denied the suit because BUSD is a state agency and is immune from suit under the 11th Amendment.
BUSD spokesperson Charles Burress said in an email that BUSD leaders were confident they were in compliance with the CPRA, noting that as a public agency, the school district is required to disclose certain records.
“Recognizing that the public’s right to transparency in public agency operations and public employees’ right to privacy are sometimes in conflict, the Public Records Act and ensuing case law provide guidelines on how to maintain a proper balance between the two,” Burress said in an email.
Burress added that the request from Judicial Watch has “imposed a significant burden” on BUSD because staff members have already spent hundreds of hours on the request. The lawsuit also resulted in a loss of staff time and district funds, diverting resources that could have supported students, according to Burress.
Felarca said the ruling has not disheartened her as an activist and shows that she cannot rely on the “conservative” court system.
“There is uniform outrage and anger about this ruling,” Felarca said. “We are still going to find a way to protect teachers’ right to privacy.”