ACLU: Great Hearts Violated Transparency Laws in Anti-Transgender Policy Plan

A Great Hearts charter school in Scottsdale.
A Great Hearts charter school in Scottsdale. Molly Longman
The American Civil Liberties Union alleged in a lawsuit on Wednesday that Great Hearts America violated transparency laws in its response to public uproar against an anti-transgender policy.

Great Hearts America operates 22 public charter schools in the state through another corporation it oversees, Great Hearts Arizona. The schools serve more than 10,000 students and take millions in public funds.

The group has come under fire in recent years for policies adopted in 2016 against transgender students, including a rule forcing students to use restrooms that correspond with the sex on their birth certificate. Another policy, prohibiting braids, also came under criticism.

The schools reversed both rules after public outcry.

The ACLU of Arizona later filed several public records requests for documents related to meetings dealing with the anti-transgender policy. The legal group also advocated on behalf of Robert Chevaleau, the father of a former Great Hearts transgender student, who repeatedly attempted to attend Great Hearts Arizona board meetings in which officials discussed the policy.

Great Hearts blocked Chevaleau from meetings and "refused to promptly and fully comply" with the ACLU's public records requests, the lawsuit claims. The group provided redacted records related to each school's governing body, but the Great Hearts parent corporation claimed exemption from public records law, alleging that it is not a public body.

Great Hearts Arizona has complete oversight over policies in its public charter schools, the lawsuit states.

Chevaleau, president of the Arizona Trans Youth and Parent Organization, said in a prepared statement to the news media, "Rather than foster inclusive classrooms and communities, Great Hearts has chosen to hide behind closed doors and refuses to hear from concerned community members."

Great Hearts national brand director Bill Odell responded in an email that the company “fully complies with the law.”

"We have cooperated with public records requests from the ACLU and provided thousands of documents to them,” Odell said in a statement. "They have chosen to waste more resources through this course of action and we are forced to respond in court."
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Steven Hsieh was a staff writer for Phoenix New Times from August 2018 to April 2020.
Contact: Steven Hsieh