Public Records Litigation
April 4, 2023 - Since the summer of 2020, the Mequon-Thiensville School District has been engaged in litigation regarding a public records request for an email distribution list containing the private email addresses of MTSD parents/guardians. The District denied this request from Mr. Mark Gierl after applying the balancing test required under the Wisconsin Public Records Law. The District determined the public interest in protecting the privacy of parents and guardians outweighed the public interest in providing these private email addresses to Mr. Gierl for his own political agenda. Furthermore, the release of private email addresses does nothing to shine a light of transparency on our operations or communications, which is the purpose and intent of the Public Records Law.
Unfortunately, the lower court disagreed and ordered the release of these private email addresses. In an effort to protect the privacy of our most valued stakeholders - our school families - the District made the decision to appeal the court’s ruling. In December 2022, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s decision. Because there were no prior cases specifically addressing this issue of statewide importance, MTSD filed a petition for review to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. We invite you to read the Petition for Review, a copy of which can be found by clicking here.
On Wednesday, March 29, 2023, the Wisconsin Supreme Court declined to take up the District’s petition for review, meaning the appellate court decision is upheld and the Mequon-Thiensville School District must release parents’ and guardians’ personal email addresses from that June 2020 contact list to a third party requester, Mequon alderman Mark Gierl. If you are one of the individuals whose email address is among those that must be released, you will receive a separate email notice.
Please understand we have exhausted all efforts to protect the release of your personal information. We stand firm in our belief that releasing your private email addresses does nothing to shine a light of transparency on our operations or communications, which is the intent and purpose of the Public Records Law. Nevertheless, in this case, the lower court and the Court of Appeals took issue with the MTSD’s use of the email distribution list to announce a voluntary virtual presentation on race relations following an incident in our community.
In the next few days, the District will send an email notice to those individuals whose private email addresses will be disclosed by the end of the week. The email addresses will not be filed with the court or otherwise “published” by the District. After review and consultation with the District’s legal counsel over any other potential issues, they will be provided directly to Mr. Gierl, after which his further dissemination and/or use will be outside the District’s control.
Some of you may be aware that Mr. Gierl filed a second lawsuit against the MTSD over the private email addresses of alumni, Recreation Department participants, and community members who receive the District’s newsletter. That case is currently before the Wisconsin Court of Appeals. Given the factual distinctions between the two cases, the District has no intention of withdrawing that appeal and will continue its fight to protect the privacy interests of our community members.
Litigation Background & Conclusion
November 2021 Survey Results
An email message and survey were sent to all individuals on the requested "Distribution List" on Friday, November 19, 2021. The purpose of the survey is to gain a better understanding of the stance of those directly impacted by the ruling and ensure their perspectives and interests are heard. The results of that survey, below, were shared with the MTSD Board of Education and the District's legal counsel.
|Survey Question||Total Responses||Yes||No||I have no opinion|
|Question 1: If you had the choice, would you prefer the personal email address you shared with the school district be kept private from a third party requesting that information?||1,054||940 | 89%||75 | 7%||39 | 4%|
|Question 2: Assuming no additional taxpayer expense, should the District appeal the judge’s recent decision ordering the District to release your personal email address to a third party who had requested that information?||1,052||868 | 83%||135 | 13%||
49 | 5%