Attorney General: Ritz's Lawsuit Unauthorized & Invalid (VIDEO)

By Emma Koch - 21Alive

October 24, 2013 Updated Oct 24, 2013 at 2:52 PM EST

INDIANA (21Alive & RTV6) -- The state attorney general's office says the lawsuit brought by Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz is unauthorized and invalid.

Attorney General Greg Zoeller's office filed a motion Thursday to strike the Department of Education's court filing.

Zoeller said he is the only legal authority who can represent state officials in court proceedings.

Ritz's suit claims the State Board of Education violated state law by secretly drafting a letter to top lawmakers asking them to have legislative analysts calculate A-F grades for schools instead of her department.

The court has not yet ruled or scheduled a hearing in response to the AG's motion.

Statement From Superindendent Ritz At Thurday afternoon Press Conference

Thank you for being here today. As you know, this Tuesday, I filed suit against ten members of the State Board of Education individually over their violation of Indiana’s Open Doors Law. Specifically, I believe that these members took official action outside of a public meeting, in secret, without any notice to the public, or even to myself.

Let me be clear, the letter that the members of the Board sent to Republican Legislative Leadership asking that LSA take over A-F grading was done without public notice, approval or even public opportunity to comment. I have always believed that fair, open and transparent decision-making is best and it is disappointing to learn that the Board took action in a different manner.

At this time last year, A-F grades had not yet been released, even though ISTEP data was available in May of 2012. Each year, parents can request a re-score of the applied skills portion of the ISTEP test. Because of difficulties with ISTEP this year, there were over 55,000 re-scores requested statewide, and those have to be re-scored by hand. The Department is expecting to receive the re-score data on November 5.

Because Indiana has such a high-stakes testing system, one changed score can affect not just a student or school, but multiple schools. My administration has consistently provided this needed data to schools and will continue to do so openly and as fast as possible.

When I was sworn in to office, I took an oath to uphold the laws of the State of Indiana. 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, they have collectively over-stepped their bounds.

Since Tuesday, I have spoken with the Attorney General and he has indicated a desire to bring the parties together to seek resolution of this issue. I want to say that I appreciate his involvement and while I welcome the opportunity to reach resolution, I believe that the Board’s action violated Indiana law and that this case is important. In the event that out of court resolution is not possible, the courts may be the Department’s only recourse.

Finally, since my inauguration, I have worked tirelessly to communicate openly with the Board and the public. I did 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.

Release from the office of Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction, Glenda Ritz regarding the lawsuit.

In response to apparent violations of the Open Door Law by members of the State Board of Education, Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz filed suit today [Tuesday] naming ten members of the Board as defendants. The lawsuit alleges that the named members of the State Board violated Indiana’s Open Door Law by taking action in secret by drafting, or directing the drafting of, 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.

Specifically, 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.

The Office of the Governor issued the following statement regarding the lawsuit filed Tuesday by the Department of Education. The statement can be attributed to Communications Director Christy Denault.

“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.”




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