CDE Will No Longer Withhold Data From Researchers Who Testify Against It

The California Department of Education is backtracking on its decision to withhold education data from researchers who testify in legal cases against the department. The reversal follows a public outcry and injunction request filed by the ACLU.

The controversy began back in February when the CDE informed Stanford professor and researcher Thomas Dee that it was suspending their data sharing partnership. As the chief investigator for the John W. Gardner Center for Youth and Their Communities, Dee relies on that agreement to obtain nonpublic K-12 data necessary for education research.

The CDE was upset that Dee had agreed to serve as an expert witness for plaintiffs in a separate legal case regarding the negative impact of pandemic school closures. According to the CDE, Dee had violated the terms of their data sharing agreement when he filed a brief in the case. The CDE also notified him it would seek an injunction and a $50,000 fine.

Like all researchers who wish to obtain nonpublic K-12 data, Dee had signed an agreement promising not to participate in any litigation against the department. The CDE warned that his testimony in the lawsuit had “adversely impacted” their working relationship.

The ACLU called the state’s actions a violation of Dee’s First Amendment rights and a clear attempt to chill critical speech.

Attorneys for the state must have believed that argument held merit. On Wednesday, they sent a letter to Dee and other researchers informing them that the controversial clause barring any adverse testimony had been dropped. Data sharing will now continue between the department and the researchers.

The issue may not be over just yet. In its letter, the CDE reserved the right to cut ties if a researcher provides negative testimony based on the data it has received from the department. Dee and the other researchers are still hoping for legal clarity on that point.


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