Lawsuit: Fort Smith School Board Violated FOIA With Meeting To Ban Rebel Mascot
FORT SMITH (KFSM) – The Fort Smith School Board violated the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act with its June meeting that led to the banning of the “Dixie” song and rebel mascot, a lawsuit filed on Thursday (July 23) alleges.
On June 23, the Fort Smith School Board committee passed a motion to ban the “Dixie” song during the 2015-2016 school year and to replace the rebel mascot for the 2016-2017 school year, officials said.
The lawsuit states the meeting where the school board passed the motion to ban the “Dixie” song and rebel mascot violated the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act because notices regarding the meeting did not include any indication that the song and mascot would be changed.
According to the lawsuit, the school board sent out a notice to the public and local news media stating that the June 23 meeting would be to discuss the annual evaluation of the superintendent of the Fort Smith School District.
“The purpose of the notice was to lead members of the public and media into believing that the meeting was [just] to discuss a personnel issue and that the meeting would not be open to the public, or at least for the most part not open to the public because it concerned a personnel issue,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit alleges that no notice of the intended changes to the song or mascot were sent out, and that 5NEWS was tipped off concerning the planned changes. After the meeting, the lawsuit states, 5NEWS was told that the changes to the song and mascot were “official.”
Changing the fight song of the school and mascot will cost taxpayers between $200,000 and $500,000, and officials have not informed the public where that money will come from, according to the lawsuit.
School board officials violated the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act by leading the public to believe that the June 23 meeting was closed and would only be used to evaluate the superintendent, not to change the song and mascot, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit was filed by a Fort Smith resident identified as Curtis E. Sorrells. He has requested that a court hearing on the lawsuit within seven days, that action be taken against the June 23 meeting and that future Fort Smith School Board meetings be held in compliance with the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act.
To read the full lawsuit, click here.