The Anaheim Union High School District’s Great Stone Wall of Non-Transparency

In a 2014 press release, Anaheim Union High School District Superintendent Mike Matsuda assailed charter schools, alleging “many operate in the shadows with no transparency, no accountability, and no public review.” In a 2015 memo to the public regarding Measure H school bond oversight, Matsuda pledged “Transparency, oversight, communication-and gratitude-are expectations you can hold us to as Measure H work progresses.”

Matsuda’s claim that charter schools lack transparency is an odd one considering the repeated refusal of his district to comply with or even acknowledge numerous public information requests from OC Daily. In fact, Matsuda was one of the recipients of nearly every public information request.

The first public records request was submitted on Mary 13 to AUHSD Public Information Officer Patricia Karlak, asking for “any and all e-mails, documents, communications provided to Gabriel San Roman since January 1, 2016.” The intent was obtaining the same information provided to San Roman regarding the district’s public screening of an  anti-charter school documentary.

The PRA  also requested for “any and all e-mails and communications dating from May 1 and inclusive of May 13, from Al Jabbar, Mike Matsuda, Patricia Karlak and any other AUHSD employee to Dr. Jose F. Moreno, Ryan Ruelas, Tom Tait, Mark S. Hall, Robert Amsterdam, John Martin and any employee of Amsterdam & Partners LLP.”

The district never acknowledged receiving the PRA and the requested information has never been provided.

On October 14, OC Daily submitted several questions to the district regarding a $20,000 the AnaheimBROS student political club had announced receiving from the California Teachers Association.  The school district never acknowledged or responded to the information request.

On October 26, OC Daily e-mailed Matsuda several questions regarding the use of AUHSD resources to transport AnaheimBROS and CROWN student political club members to an October 24 Anaheim City Council candidate forum – where they acted as cheerleaders for candidate Jose F. Moreno. Karlak and AnaheimBROS faculty adviser Ryan Ruelas were cc’d on the information request. The school district never acknowledged or responded to the information request.

On November 2, OC Daily re-submitted to the district the questions about the use of AUHSD resources to transport Moreno’s student supporters to the candidate forum. The e-mail also asked “Why has the AUHSD been refusing to respond to my press inquiries”?  Once again, the district never acknowledged or responded to the information request.

Also on November 2, OC Daily re-submitted the October 14 information request regarding the CTA’s $20,000 grant to AnaheimBROS. And again, the district refused to respond to the request, or even acknowledge receiving it.

At that point, it was becoming clear the Anaheim Union High School District was deliberately stonewalling public information requests from OC Daily. On November 3, OC Daily submitted a California Public Records Act request for ” all electronic or written communications that mention OC Daily, Anaheim Blog, Matthew (or Matt) Cunningham or AnaheimBROS; sent from, to and between Superintendent Michael Matsuda, Ryan Ruelas, Public Information Officer Patricia Karlak, Trustee Al Jabbar, Executive Assistant to the Superintendent Liliana Carrillo and any other AUHSD personnel – during the period August 22, 2016 through November 3, 2016.” The e-mail also requested “an immediate reply acknowledging receipt of this request.

Again, no response, reply or acknowledgement has been received from the district.

The same day, November 3, OC Daily e-mailed Katella High School’s principal and head baseball coach (Matsuda and Karlak were cc’d) regarding a post on District 5 city council candidate Mark Lopez’s campaign Facebook page. The post was a photo of Lopez with members of the KHS baseball team in their uniforms and thanking them for walking precincts for the Lopez campaign. The e-mail posed a few questions about the school policy regarding the appropriateness of students engaged in political campaigning off-campus in school athletic uniforms.

Again, no response, reply or acknowledgement has been received from Katella High School or the district.

The only exception to this stonewalling was when OC Daily contacted the district regarding the AnaheimBROS club leadership’s practice of referring to themselves as the Politburo – a word that means the executive leadership committee of a Communist Party. In that instance, the response was rapid.

Given the repeated refusal of the AUHSD to respond to or even acknowledge numerous public information requests, OC Daily took the step of e-mailing the Amir Azimsadeh of law firm Artiano Shinoff (AUHSD’s outside legal counsel) on January 8, 2017. The e-mail attached the public information requests the district had been ignoring, and requested immediate compliance with these requests in keeping with the letter and spirit of the law so that it would not be necessary to engage legal counsel.

Mr. Azimsadeh replied the next day:

Thank you for your e-mail. The District has just returned from break. I will inquire as to your concern and ensure that appropriate responses are provided.

Please do not hesitate to contact me with any concerns.

OC Daily heard nothing further until this January 18 e-mail from a Artiano Shinoff attorney Michelle Pacis:

I am assisting Mr. Azimzadeh and AUHSD with your CPRA requests. I understand you recently asked Mr. Azimzadeh for an update regarding your requests.

I have spoken with AUHSD and it is currently working to gather the disclosable records that respond to your requests. Please allow the District some time to gather these documents as it requires participation from several departments.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have questions.

I thank you for your patience in this matter.

OC Daily responded by thanking Ms. Pacis and asking why AUHSD failed to respond to CPRA and media requests when they were filed, and whether or not the district was responding to all of the information requests?

There has been no reply as of the publishing of this article.

The AUHSD’s refusal to comply with reasonable and proper public information requests is unprecedented in the experience of this writer. I have never had a public agency simply refuse to provide requested public information – or even ignore the request altogether. Public agencies cannot pick and choose to whose requests they’ll respond based on arbitrary and subjective motivations. Furthermore, it shouldn’t be necessary to have to contact a public agency’s attorneys in order to force compliance that ought to be come willingly.

It remains to be seen the extent to which the AUHSD maintains its stance of stonewalling OC Daily.

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