the California Department of Education is no longer threatening to fine a Stanford University K-12 researcher $50,000 and cut off his department-connected research because he is testifying in a lawsuit against the agency.
Thomas Dee, the Barnett Family Professor at Stanford’s Graduate School of Education, submitted an expert report last month in a years-long case that demands California do more to ameliorate K-12 students’ pandemic learning loss. A California Department of Education official then wrote to Dee saying he had violated two agreements with the department.
“The California Department of Education (CDE) is suspending any obligations or commitments under the agreement with Stanford, demands mitigation of damages and reserves all its rights,” the department wrote. Using the abbreviated case name, it further wrote, “You may not testify for, advise or consult with the Cayla J plaintiffs.”
The agreements concerned confidentiality, conflicts of interests and other aspects of the department’s data. Dee said he signed the agreements in his role as faculty director for the John W. Gardner Center for Youth and Their Communities.
But he declared that he hadn’t actually seen the data, that the information is unrelated to his expert report and that he’s not involved in the study the data are for, which is on how the department’s accountability measures affect alternative schools for students with motivation and behavioral issues and those at risk of dropping out.
The American Civil Liberties Union and Public Counsel, a public interest law firm representing the California children in the lawsuit, objected to the testimony ban. In a letter last week, the department said it “will not enforce paragraph 16 of its standard research agreement and paragraph six of attachment D thereto (the ‘provisions’) as to Thomas Dee with respect to any participation in this lawsuit.”
The letter is from Len Garfinkel, the department’s general counsel, and addressed to Brad Seligman, a judge in the Superior Court of California, Alameda County.
“This letter further confirms that those provisions were deleted in their entirety, such that the CDE will not take any other action against Dr. Dee at any time in relation to those provisions based on such participation,” Garfinkel wrote.
On Friday, a department spokesman told Inside Higher Ed in an email that all researchers with a memorandum of understanding with the department “will not be prohibited from testifying against CDE when using publicly available data. All researchers who have MOUs with CDE will remain precluded from testifying in legal proceedings to the extent they rely on or use proprietary CDE data.”
The department had also threatened to fine Sean Reardon, another Stanford K-12 researcher whose work often appears in national media, if he testified in the case. In an email to Inside Higher Ed Friday, Reardon said he hasn’t received a letter from the state “removing the restriction to me testifying in the Cayla J case or any other.”
Reardon said Stanford’s Learning Policy Institute (LPI), through which he signed the agreement with the department, “has received a letter, which may mean that all signatories to the LPI CDE data use agreement are no longer restricted from testifying, but it is not entirely clear.”
“Because of the uncertainty—and for other unrelated reasons—I have not decided if I will participate as an expert witness,” he wrote.