NEWARK – The Montclair Board of Education has agreed to resolve the lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) on behalf of an anonymous internet commenter, known as “Assessmentgate.”
The settlement, approved by the board on Dec. 16, requires that the board withdraw subpoenas seeking identifying information about anonymous internet critics and take affirmative steps to notify anonymous internet users if the board subpoenas identifying information about them. As part of the settlement, “Assessmentgate” has agreed to respond to questions from the board without revealing who he or she is.
“While I’m glad this matter is resolved, I’m also frustrated: I would have responded to questions if the board had simply emailed me,” said “Assessmentgate,” the ACLU-NJ client. “Instead, the board chose to waste valuable time and tax dollars on an unconstitutional hunt for their critics instead of investing in our schools.”
On Dec. 4, the ACLU-NJ obtained a court order from the Essex County Superior Court that temporarily quashed subpoenas the Montclair Board of Education had issued to learn the identity of the ACLU-NJ’s client and that prevented the board from issuing additional subpoenas for similar information.
The board issued subpoenas seeking the identities of anonymous critics after copies of assessment exams were discovered to be posted to a public website days before they were to be given to students. The tests have been the subject of intense debate in Montclair. The ACLU-NJ’s client, “Assessmentgate,” has criticized the board for the tests anonymously on various community websites, but is not involved with the security breach.
“The school board overstepped its bounds in issuing these subpoenas. Our client’s answers to their questions will show that the board could not reasonably believe that Assessmentgate had anything to do with the release of the tests,” said Jeanne LoCicero, deputy legal director for the ACLU-NJ. “We all have the constitutional right to engage in debate about matters of public concern, and to do so anonymously.”
The board agreed to withdraw the subpoenas it issued to Google and to BaristaKids seeking identifying after it receives information from “Assessmentgate.” It also will reimburse the costs of filing the court action.