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American Federation of Teachers, et al. v. U.S. Department of Education

After the U.S. Department of Education failed to fully comply with public records requests that could shed light on the gun lobby’s possible role in the department not standing in the way of states and school districts using federal funds to arm educators, a lawsuit was filed on behalf of the SPLC and other groups to compel the federal government to release the documents.

The lawsuit was filed after the SPLC filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests with the department on Aug. 27, 2018, and September 11, 2018. The SPLC sought the records after reports that U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos considered the plan in the aftermath of school shootings. DeVos is now asserting that states and school districts have the flexibility to spend the funds as they see fit.

The August request sought “all records discussing or revealing communications or meetings with the National Rifle Association, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, [and] Gun Owners of America.” It also sought communications between the department and some of the gun rights movement’s biggest names, including NRA President Oliver North and CEO Wayne LaPierre. The September request sought additional related communications within the department and between the department and various local and state education agencies.

More than two weeks later, the department sent an interim response to the August request with five records – just 15 pages – many of which were duplicates. The department assured the parties that “your FOIA request case file remains open.” On Sept. 26, 2018, the department notified the SPLC that it was “unable to provide an estimated completion date” for the August request. The department has not substantively responded to the September request. Despite efforts by the SPLC and fellow plaintiffs, the department has failed to comply with its statutory obligations to respond within the legally required time period for such requests.