Judge Stalls Efforts to Identify Person Behind Leaked School Assessments

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An Essex County Superior Court Judge in New Jersey has temporarily stalled efforts by the Montclair Board of Education to identify the person who leaked more than a dozen school tests days before students were scheduled to take them.

The Montclair Board of Education subpoenaed Google on Nov. 1 to learn the identity of an anonymous online critic of the school district who goes by the name “Assessmentgate.” He or she uses a Gmail account.

The issue over testing has divided much of the Montclair community, an upper-middle class districts known in part for its dedication to racial integration in classrooms.

Montclair Superintendent Penny MacCormack has started testing students quarterly. Some residents have complained it’s too much testing, and that the district assessments too-closely mirror the state assessments. 

The Attorney representing Montclair schools, Richard Rubin, said at the hearing that Assessmentgate was the “linchpin” to finding out who posted the confidential test materials on the book-sharing website gobookee.org.

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey was granted a temporary restraining order to stop the subpoena of Google and any others that seek “identifying information” about Assessmentgate.

The Deputy Legal Director for the ACLU-NJ, Jeanne LoCicero, says her client has verified he or she did not leak the tests. She believes the district is simply trying to unmask a critic.

“My client’s constitutional rights are fundamental and when balanced against the Board of Education’s interests, they just don’t have the need to discover my client’s identity,” LoCicero said.   

On Jan. 9, Judge Thomas R. Vena will determine whether the needs of the district’s investigation outweigh Assessmentgate's first amendment rights to anonymous free speech.