Law Center Makes OPRA Request of Chatham BOE Regarding Teaching of Islam: BOE Says it Won't Change Curriculum

Bob Higgins came before the board and spoke about the OPRA request by the Thomas More Law Center regarding the teaching of Islam in the school district Credits: TAP Chatham
Board members Matthew Gilfillan, Jill Critchley Weber and Michelle Clark at meeting on Monday night Credits: TAP Chatham
Rich Connors said that Chatham will continue to teach what the state mandates at BOE meeting Monday night Credits: TAP Chatham

CHATHAM, NJ - On a night the Chatham Board of Education unanimously passed its 2017-'18 budget, it was revealed that the Thomas More Law Center has made an OPRA (Open Public Records Act) request for emails and other documents regarding the teaching of Islam in the district.

"The district has, by law, 10 days to respond once it's received," Peter Daquila, board secretary/administrator, said. "Under legal advisement, an additional response has been sent."

The OPRA action was brought to light during the public portion of the meeting Monday night when Chatham resident Bob Higgins came before the board and said he had made an OPRA request of his own. He filled out a request to find out if the Thomas More Law Center, representing Chatham mothers Nancy Gayer and Libby Hilsenrath, had taken any action.

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Higgins said that the day after he made his own OPRA request, he received a 10-page response from the BOE detailing the 53 specific requests for documentation by the Thomas More Law Center.

According to Higgins, he had been away and heard that Gayer and Hilsenrath were represented by the Thomas More Law Center and wanted to find out if they had taken any action. The two mothers had questioned the BOE on the emphasis on Islam during a February 6 board meeting and then went on "Tucker Carlson Tonight"  Feb. 20 to voice their opinions.

"I got back a 10-page document of 53 points of materials they are looking for," Higgins  said. "No. 1 - A copy of all records, documents or course writings referring to any assignments pertaining to the teachings of Islam in courses within the school district, including but not limited to, the 7th grade World Cultures Geography Class at the Chatham Middle School."

Bob Higgins said there were 53 requests made by the Thomas More Law Center

Higgins went on to say that the OPRA request asked for a copy of all tests or assignments given to the students and their responses, with the names of the students redacted from the documents.

"When does the witch hunt end and when do we say, no, enough is enough," Higgins said. "They're basically just trying to wrestle their way into getting the answer that they want by forcing us to bleed the budget and putting the money where it shouldn't go instead of where it should go."

"We are not changing the curriculum," Michelle Clark, board member, said.

Board president Jill Critchley Weber told Higgins that the BOE can't say "enough is enough" since they have to follow the law.

"We don't have the authority to say 'no mas','' Weber said. "We have to comply. This is the only thing we've recived from them, this OPRA request." (Weber's full response is in the video below).

Board member Rich Connors spoke about the legal aspects and said that the board would continue to follow what the state requires. "I don't see the district backing down in any way, shape or form," Connors said. (see his full comments below).


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