Kim Sordyl is a school district’s worst nightmare. A mother of two public school students, a fierce activist, and a former litigator with sharp investigative skills, Sordyl has become a one-woman-wrecking-crew cutting through attempts to hide critical information from the public.
Say her name in Portland and any employee of the Portland Public Schools should know who she is. Her relentless social media campaigns targeted at the PPS have successfully revealed borderline corruption, problems with district staff, eyebrow-raising business deals, and unexplained financial waste.
Sparked in 2013 by discovering an issue of child abuse at an elementary school, Sordyl became determined to bring sunlight to the district’s darkened corners. About the abuse issue she says “at every level [the district] engaged in a cover-up and what I’ve seen since then is that’s how they handle every problem.”
A local news story suggested Sordyl might be a “mean girl.” Maybe that’s what we need when middle-class niceties fail to produce respect from public institutions towards the people they are supposed to serve.
Sordyl has now become the go-to defender of parents who have complaints that go unheard by school officials. They are likely drawn to her fearless approach, a take-no-prisoners resolve that never fails, even in the face of a school district determined to intimidate and silence parents.
We forget how much power school districts have. It makes for rough waters for anyone seeking to be an education activist.
Like other school districts and government agencies, the Portland Public Schools decided last spring the best way to handle Sordyl was to sue her. An Associated Press story covering her says there is an upward trend of attacks on parents and taxpayers who submit information requests.
That’s simply unacceptable. As the funders and the primary reason for schools to exist, parents deserve better.
“Government bodies are increasingly turning the tables on citizens who seek public records that might be embarrassing or legally sensitive. Instead of granting or denying their requests, a growing number of school districts, municipalities, and state agencies have filed lawsuits against people making the requests — taxpayers, government watchdogs and journalists who must then pursue the records in court at their own expense,” the AP reports.
If the cost of information is high, which parents or advocates do you think will most likely have the commitment to paying it? The poor parents with poor students? Hardly. So, what about that oft-mentioned need for parent involvement then?
Stick to bake sales and correcting your children when the teachers implore you to do so. Leave the higher order democratic participation stuff to district insiders.
That institutional arrogance is what has spurred more private citizens and advocates to be engaged in legal disputes with their schools and the governors of schools.
Examples are far ranging. Parents in Minnesota are mounting a challenge to school districts for dodging and delaying information requests. The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights had to sue the State of California simply to find out how many public school students were “struggling to learn English.” A Washington State school district sued to block journalists from gaining public records resulting from a closed-door agreement made between the district and their exiting superintendent.
The Lubbock Cooper Independent School District sued parents Sherri and Christopher Dennis to prevent them from gaining court-ordered special education services for their child.
This is the way an institution we call the “cornerstone of democracy” behaves?
When public education leaders take strong stands against providing public information or services to parents and other members of their communities, it calls into question many of the themes we trade about public schools. Schools are supposed to be democratic and “accountable to voters.” That’s what the biggest public education booters tell us repeatedly, especially when they want to contrast traditional public schools with new educational alternatives like charter schools. Charters, critics say, have a transparency problem that allows for fraud, waste, and abuse.
Charters, critics say, have a transparency problem that allows for – or even encourages – fraud, waste, and abuse. public school champions who make those claims can’t be credible if they fail to apply the same level of critical examination to traditional school districts.
Let’s be honest people, and let’s stop the ruse. Public school champions who make those claims about democracy in education can’t be credible if they fail to apply the same level of critical examination to traditional school districts.
Having been an urban school board member I can tell you with a perfect contempt that school districts are far from transparent, regardless of whether their boards are elected or appointed, and the only time districts are truly called to heel is when facing an instigator like Sordyl.
Long live the parent willing to fight for what’s right.