AG sues Mystic Valley Charter School for ignoring records requests
By Chloe Courtney Bohl
Massachusetts Attorney General Andrea Campbell filed a lawsuit Monday against Mystic Valley Regional Charter School in Malden over its refusal to comply with multiple public records requests.
The school has been embroiled in controversy for years over its treatment of minority students. This latest legal action challenges Mystic Valley’s claim that it doesn’t have to comply with Public Records Law, despite being a publicly-funded school.
Mystic Valley declined to respond to more than 10 separate records requests from the Malden News Network, Commonwealth Transparency, and Malden mayoral candidate Lisa Alvarado between January and November 2022, arguing it “does not fall under the category of entities handling public documents” as a charter school. The groups wanted to examine the school’s funding streams, its employment contracts, and information distributed to its Board of Trustees, among other items.
In the legal filing, Campbell makes the case that a charter school does, in fact, bear a responsibility to comply with Public Records Law — which exists to provide public access to government records — since “charter schools are financed through local, state, and federal funds” and receive funding from the public school districts where their students live.
According to the attorney general’s office, the Supervisor of Records received complaints that MVRCS was not complying with records requests and “referred the matter to the Attorney General to ensure compliance.”
The Mystic Valley Regional Charter School serves about 1,600 kindergarten through 12th-graders from Everett, Malden, Medford, Melrose, Stoneham and Wakefield. Though the U.S. News and World Report ranked its high school program the eighth best in Massachusetts, the school has often been criticized for discriminating against minority students.
In 2017, then-Attorney General Maura Healey found that the school’s hair and makeup policy violated state and federal law “by subjecting students of color, especially black students, to differential treatment and thus denying them the same advantages and privileges of public education afforded to other students.” The school had been punishing Black female students who wore hair extensions with detentions and suspensions.
During the 2018-19 school year, The Boston Globe reported that Black and Latino students at Mystic Valley were disciplined at almost double the rate of white students.
In 2020, an alumni petition denouncing “the school’s blind eye to racism” and calling to diversify its faculty and Board and broadly “address issues of systemic discrimination” garnered hundreds of signatures. The petition also demanded the school disaffiliate itself from a former trustee and one of its co-founders, Neil Kinnon, who had promoted an opinion article titled “The Myth of Systemic Police Racism” on his social media, prompting outrage from the school community.
And in August 2022, an eighth-grader received a “uniform infraction” for wearing a hijab to school.
Some of the records requested by Mystic News Network, Commonwealth Transparency, and Alvarado included:
The Division of Open Government in the attorney general’s office, which enforces the Open Meeting Law and the Public Records Law, is handling the suit.
Mystic Valley Superintendent and Director Alexander Dan did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A spokesperson for Malden News Network, a local news outlet and one of the groups that made requests for records from Mystic Valley, told Boston.com the network “is very happy to see the AGO has taken this to the next level to reinforce the public records requirements for all public entities in the Commonwealth.”
Commonwealth Transparency, a government accountability advocacy group that also made records requests, told Boston.com it doesn’t think Campbell’s suit goes far enough. “We intend to file a motion to intervene and add additional counts and ask for additional relief,” a spokesperson said.
Ryan O’Malley is a Malden city councilor who advocated that the state not renew Mystic Valley’s charter this year after the spate of discriminatory incidents (the charter did end up being renewed).
“I’m very grateful to [Campbell] for moving this enforcement action forward,” O’Malley told Boston.com. “It’s clear that Mystic Valley does not want to operate within the law. This is just one of a long list of instances of the school skirting or violating the law.”
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