A school board member in the Bay Area asked questions about the operations of a private charter school that was up for renewal. The charter CEO didn’t like her questions, and he threatened to sue her for defamation. She took his threats to the American Civil Liberties Union, and it agreed to defend her.

“The ACLU Foundation of Northern California is committed to fighting against spurious legal claims that threaten free speech. Especially when corporations and other powerful entities attempt to strong-arm people who have less resources at their disposal.

“This is exactly what happened to Claudia Rossi, a Bay Area school-board member and trustee, when she raised concerns about a private charter school at a public meeting during which board members were considering renewal of the school’s charter.

“Ms. Rossi’s inquiries were well within the scope of her official duties as a board member and trustee representing the public interest.

“Unfortunately, the charter school’s CEO responded to public criticism by threatening her with a lawsuit. In a threatening letter sent to Ms. Rossi, the CEO claimed her statements were defamatory and demanded she retract them and apologize publicly and in writing.

“This tactic—alleging defamation because one does not appreciate a comment, opinion, or line of questioning—is as prevalent as it is problematic. And it threatens our country’s commitment to open discourse. “

Unfortunately the charter industry tends to resort to bullying tactics to get more public money and have their wishes prevail. For example, when they close their schools and bus their students, staff, and even parents to political rallies, all dressed in matching T-shirts, carrying posters expressing their demands for more money, more autonomy, faster closings of public schools. Any public school that did that would be immediately investigated, and the principal would be fired for engaging in political activities.