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Court battle looms over high-volume South Kingstown school records requests

Target 12

SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. (WPRI) – A South Kingstown resident who has drawn national media attention for filing a large number of public records requests regarding racial issues will meet the state’s biggest teachers union in court Monday after the union filed a lawsuit.

Nicole Solas’ public records pursuit started with questions to an elementary school principal about what her child might be taught in kindergarten, and her persistence has subsequently catapulted her to national prominence, including multiple Fox News appearances.

In April, Solas emailed the principal requesting to see the school curriculum, as well as other materials such as “past and present lesson plans that incorporate or promote the ideologies of antiracism, gender theory, transgenderism and Critical Race Theory.”

The principal asked Solas to submit a formal request under the state’s Access to Public Records Act (APRA). Between April and July, Solas and her husband filed 200 and 100 requests, respectively.

On Aug. 2, the National Education Association Rhode Island teachers filed suit in Superior Court, seeking an injunction to prevent some materials from being released to Solas.

“I was doing what my school district told me to do when I had questions about whether critical race theory and gender theory were being taught in the school district,” Solas told Target 12. “The NEA should be ashamed that they’re targeting parents who want to know what their children are being taught.”

The South Kingstown school district released a portion of the materials sought by Solas on July 13, totaling roughly 6,500 pages of documents. The district requested $74,000 to give Solas everything she has requested. Solas told Target 12 she has paid $1,600 so far.

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Bob Walsh, the union’s executive director, said he agrees that Solas should have access to the school’s curriculum because it’s a public document. But told Target 12 that NEARI thinks some of Solas’ other requests involve material that should not be made public under APRA.

Walsh said the lawsuit has two goals: “Stop the school committee from releasing anything that’s 100% protected under law, usually involving collective bargaining,” and ask the court to “impose a balancing test on whether individual names should be released — whether the privacy interests of individual teachers outweighs any underlying elements of the requests, and if so, what do they do.”

Walsh also said that even though the lawsuit names Solas as well as her husband, the central focus of the litigation is about stopping the school committee from releasing certain information.

“The only reason she’s named in the complaint is law requires all interested parties to be named in the complaint — this is not a dispute with her at all,” Walsh said. “This case has nothing to do with Nicole Solas.”

If Solas asks to be removed from the lawsuit in court Monday, Walsh said, NEARI would agree.

When Target 12 asked Solas if she would request to be removed from the lawsuit, she said she would not reveal her legal strategy. And she said she “absolutely” felt targeted by the suit regardless of Walsh’s comments.

“You don’t name someone as a defendant in litigation, and then remove them the next day as a way to say, ‘We didn’t mean to bully you,'” she said.

Asked why she was named, Walsh said Rhode Island state law mandates that any interested parties be named in a lawsuit. If not for that requirement, he said, NEARI would not have named Solas or her husband at all.

When Target 12 asked Solas about this law, she replied, “I guess we’ll have to see how that plays out in court.” Solas said the Goldwater Institute, a conservative public policy think tank, is representing her pro bono.

Her lawyers filed a response to the NEARI’s lawsuit on Wednesday, arguing the request for an injunction is invalid and should be thrown out.

Tolly Taylor (ttaylor@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for WPRI 12. Connect with him on Twitter and on Facebook

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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