The conservative advocacy group Judicial Watch has asked Berkeley Unified to turn over documents about King Middle School teacher Yvette Felarca, prompting the district to issue a statement Friday about its response to the request.
The non-profit Judicial Watch recently filed a California Public Records Act (CPRA) request with BUSD in pursuit of employee communications regarding Felarca and her activist organization By Any Means Necessary. Based in Washington, D.C., Judicial Watch is best known as a force behind the release of then-candidate Hillary Clinton’s private emails.
According to BUSD, Judicial Watch requested all records of communication between district administrators and King staff mentioning the words “Felarca,” “antifa,” “By All Means Necessary” [sic] and “BAMN.” Judicial Watch also requested Felarca’s “personnel file,” according to the district statement.
Felarca said Monday that she plans to file a lawsuit against the district over its compliance with the records request. She did not reveal the grounds on which she will sue BUSD, but said she will provide more information soon.
Felarca, who currently works part-time at King, is known nationally for her activism with BAMN, a radical group that believes violence can be a necessary response to bigotry. The middle school teacher is currently facing the felony charge of inciting a riot to counterprotest a neo-Nazi rally in Sacramento last year. She was recently arrested in Berkeley as well while protesting a right-wing rally near the UC Berkeley campus.
In the Oct. 27 statement, BUSD Superintendent Donald Evans and School Board President Ty Alper wrote that the district is legally obligated to fulfill the Judicial Watch request.
“We feel it is important to remind our community about the provisions of the CPRA as well as how we are responding to this request and why we are legally required to do so,” the statement said. Evans and Alper went on to explain that most documents relating to the district’s operations, including emails, are public record, but some, such as most employee personnel records, are exempt.
“Under the CPRA, we have a clear legal obligation to search for communications that are potentially responsive to this request, regardless of what we think of the motives of the requester,” the district said. According to the statement, BUSD employees have already spent “hundreds of hours” gathering the documents. Alper said they will be delivered to Judicial Watch in a couple weeks.
A representative from Judicial Watch said its president, the organization’s spokesman, was unavailable for comment Monday. Berkeleyside will update this story when we reach him. The group is not the first conservative organization to turn its lens on Felarca, who has become the target of many on the right who view her and BAMN as the public representatives of a radical, anti-fascist movement in Berkeley. Many have called for BUSD to fire Felarca.
The BUSD statement acknowledged that some in the school community feel that Judicial Watch is conducting a “witch hunt” against an individual employee. The district must obey the law, Evans and Alper wrote, but as for the personnel records they are not required to release, “we will aggressively protect the legal rights of our employees in responding to this request.”
On Monday, Alper said the district released the statement because “we wanted the community to know why we had an obligation to treat this request seriously and comply with it, even though doing so is upsetting for our employees and a burden on all of us.”
He said the district would be subject to costly litigation if it tried to deny the Judicial Watch request. The statement also warned against any lawsuits attempting to stop the district from fulfilling the records request.
“Any litigation against the district — including litigation that delays the district’s lawful response to a CPRA request — can result in a significant loss in time and funds that should be devoted to directly supporting our students and staff,” the statement said.
Felarca denied restraining order against College Republican
Felarca has meanwhile been embroiled in another legal battle, against the president of the Berkeley College Republicans, senior Troy Worden. Felarca and Worden have each accused the other of harassment and stalking. Last week, an Alameda County judge dismissed Felarca’s attempt to obtain a restraining order against Worden.
Felarca had initially received a temporary restraining order barring Worden from coming within 10 yards of the activist, who often holds rallies at UC Berkeley.
“Now that we have stopped the multiple and ongoing harassment by Yvette and BAMN, hopefully now I can go on with my main purpose at Berkeley which is to get an education and exercise my free speech rights without interference,” Worden said in a statement Oct. 27.
The Berkeley College Republicans have invited several controversial speakers to the UC Berkeley campus over the past year, engaging in a public battle with the administration, which the group has sued for allegedly suppressing free speech.
Earlier this month, the Daily Cal reported on a rift between the far-right members of BCR, including Worden, and their more traditionally conservative peers. Some club members reportedly impeached Worden in favor of a “less alt-right” leader, according to the paper.