Louisiana’s voucher program is in some real trouble thanks to a federal lawsuit alleging that the scheme hinders federally mandated desegregation in many school districts, but before answering to the U.S. Department of Justice, the state will have to deal with a 20-year-old who advocates for sound science education.
You’ve probably heard of Zack Kopplin. We’ve written about him a bunch thanks to his ongoing battle to end Louisiana’s Science Education Act, which is actually nothing more than a ploy to teach creationism in public schools. He’s the son of Andy Kopplin, the current deputy mayor of New Orleans and a former chief of staff for two Bayou State governors.
Kopplin has been persistent in his efforts for some time. When he was a high school student in Baton Rouge, he became concerned over the inroads creationists were making in the state. Specifically, Zack was dismayed over the so-called “Science Act.”
Kopplin knew creationism shouldn’t be taught in place of real science in public schools, and he didn’t want to just fume about it. So he went online looking for help. In short order, he found Barbara Forrest, a philosophy professor at Southeastern Louisiana University.
(Forrest, who was a member of Americans United’s Board of Trustees, wrote Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design (with Paul R. Gross) in 2004. She’s an expert on the evolving strategies of the creationists.)
Since then, Zack’s activism has taken many forms. He has worked with a state legislator to repeal the Louisiana law, and he lined up dozens of Nobel laureates to condemn the measure. He’s also addressed many rallies.
Zack is currently a student at Rice University in Houston. But he keeps tabs on things back in Louisiana (in addition to working on projects in Texas), and is continuing to gather information on the “Science Act” as well as the Louisiana’s voucher program.
In his efforts to dig up information, however, Kopplin seems to have run into resistance from the state, which is no real surprise given that Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) loves vouchers and clearly has no problem with creationism being taught in public schools.
So now Kopplin is suing state Education Superintendent John White for access to public records, accusing the state of failing to completely and properly respond to records requests within a mandated timeframe.
Court documents show that Kopplin sent information requests on May 27 and June 20, but the Department of Education (DOE) just gave him a run around.
The lawsuit documents Kopplin’s attempts to correspond with the DOE via email, Facebook and Twitter, and while he did get responses, he says he didn’t get all the records.
On June 19, the suit says, Kopplin and others went to Baton Rouge to view records in person, but were denied access by security. A representative of the DOE spoke with Kopplin that day and made a bunch of excuses for why the requests had not been fulfilled, including a claim that the recent retirement of a particular employee was holding up the request, according to the lawsuit.
Kopplin said in the suit that he returned the next day to the DOE office and was granted access to some records, but not all that he had requested.
Ultimately, this evasion is all part of the DOE’s “custom, policy and practice to deny civil rights to similarly situated plaintiffs, specifically to deny persons seeking public information,” Kopplin claimed.
In response, Barry Landry, a DOE spokesman, told the New Orleans Times-Picayune that: “We have the public records Mr. Kopplin has requested, and they are available for him to pick up at our office. To date, he has not responded to our invitation to do so.”
Kopplin probably wouldn’t be suing if that were the case, so that’s quite dubious. And this is not the first time the DOE has been sued over public records request problems. The Times-Picayune said in May the DOE settled a suit filed by a journalist, and agreed to pay him $6,300 in fees.
We know why Louisiana is reluctant to release these records, and it’s likely Jindal and his allies will do everything they can to protect their education schemes – even if that means violating the state or U.S. Constitution.
We certainly hope that the state releases the records Kopplin asked for, and that Louisiana finally comes clean about its voucher program.