Missouri AG sent five requests for MSU emails and records • Missouri Independent

Jon Turner does not hesitate to share his opinion.

An associate professor at Missouri State University in Springfield, Turner’s personal social media is usually filled with articles he shares about education or his research goal of four-day school weeks.

But sometimes Turner dives into politics, especially after Attorney General Eric Schmitt begins prosecuting, subpoenaing and investigating public schools.

In April, after Schmitt launched a platform for parents to report the “diverse” curriculum at their student’s school, Turner mused on Twitter that Schmitt was known as a moderate in the US legislature. ‘State.

“…now, as ATTORNEY GENERAL, he is so ANTI-TEACHING that I simply cannot understand the flip-flop,” wrote Turner, a former school administrator and teacher for 25 years. “I’m working to ensure that this dangerous and hateful political jellyfish is never elected to anything again.”

A few days after that tweet, Missouri State University (MSU) received a letter from the attorney general’s office requesting all of Turner’s emails over the previous three months.

Contacted about Turner’s email request last week by The Independent, Chris Nuelle, a spokesman for Schmitt, said it was “part of an investigative process that we have undertaken that examined educational practices and policies in our state. ”

Turner says her research — which focuses on the challenges facing rural schools and the four-day school week — isn’t something the attorney general’s office would concern itself with.

“I have no idea if Eric Schmitt even knows who I am,” Turner said.

As he pondered further, Turner said he had come to believe demand for his emails had been spurred by his public criticism of Schmitt, who is running as the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate.

“I perceived it as a shot through my bow to say, ‘Hey mate, we’re watching you. And you’re on our radar. And so I took it as a factor of attempted intimidation,” Turner said. “But I will say it probably had the exact opposite effect and I was probably even more outspoken in my concerns about the Attorney General’s politicization of his position.”

Turner’s email request was just one of five open case requests Schmitt’s office has sent to Missouri State University since the start of the year, according to records obtained. by The Independent under the Sunshine Law.

The requests filed in late March and April targeted faculty emails and documents related to a “Facing Racism Institute” training for Springfield Public Schools and communications with the district; emails from an administrator containing keywords associated with the Missouri School Boards Association, as well as correspondence with members of the Nixa School Board; and documents related to a Department of Homeland Security grant awarded to the university which aims to protect against radicalization towards white supremacy.

An MSU spokeswoman said the university had no comment on the attorney general’s requests.

Requests to MSU came months before two much-criticized open-record requests sent by Schmitt’s office at the University of Missouri — one for faculty emails related to a fact-checking journalism course and another targeting a research program that helps teachers implement social-emotional learning in their classrooms.

Schmitt’s Education Lawsuits

Some of the requests appear to dovetail with ongoing lawsuits that the attorney general’s office is pursuing, although Nuelle declined to comment on the scope of the requests.

In two requests focused on the ‘Facing Racism Institute’, Justin Smith, Schmitt’s chief of staff, requested a litany of documents, including emails, training materials and a ‘debriefing document’ following a training that the institute facilitated for Springfield Public Schools in 2019. .

Schmitt sued Springfield Public Schools last year alleging that the district failed to turn over records related to the training.

A Springfield Public Schools spokesperson declined to comment, citing ongoing litigation.

Asked about the bureau’s request for documents related to the Department of Homeland Security grant, Nuelle referenced at Springfield News-Leader an ongoing federal lawsuit against the Biden administration and social media companies alleging collusion to censor certain topics.

Requests for additional recordings that requested emails to Turner and Brent Dunn, Missouri State University’s vice president for academic advancement, were later revised to include certain keywords, such as “Missouri School Board Association” — another entity that Schmitt’s office sued for alleged violations of the Sunshine Act.

On Monday, a Boone County Circuit Court judge granted the association’s motion to dismiss the case. A separate but similar lawsuit filed against the Missouri School Boards’ Association by a conservative Georgia nonprofit was also fired at the end of August.

Dunn’s email request also specifically requested any correspondence between March and early April between six current and former members of the Nixa School Board. Dunn, who also sits on the Nixa School Board, declined to comment and said communications related to his school board duties are now handled by the Nixa Public Schools system.

The key words Schmitt’s office used in its revised application were confusing, Turner said, because the only listed organization he remains involved with is the Missouri Association of Rural Education.

And that search term was also eventually removed due to the volume of records it was producing. The remaining records — which included keywords such as Missouri School Board Association and Missouri National Education Association — returned less than 100 results on a preliminary search.

Turner said that after his emails were provided to Schmitt’s office, he never heard from the request again. He wonders if Schmitt’s office did anything with his emails after receiving them.

In his three decades as an educator, Turner said he always believed that every elected official — regardless of party — was an ally for public education and saw it as a public good.

But in recent years, he said he felt politicians were only interested in their next office.

“And that’s the part that’s the most disappointing and amazing to me,” he said. “I just can’t imagine how we got here.”

About Terry Simmons

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