Hamburg Educational Ethics, an Internet blog, talks of lofty issues like the value of state assessments and teacher evaluations.
It also depicts the superintendent of Hamburg Central Schools as Pinocchio, one School Board member as a cheerleader, one as a crying baby and another as Rosie the Riveter, and talks about the “Bored” of Education with sarcastic, caustic, opinionated, satirical, biting and humorous prose.
Now some in the district want to know who is behind the blog, which is operated anonymously and posts some anonymous comments.
The district has obtained a subpoena for Google to find out the identities of the person who runs the blog, “Concerned Hamburger,” and two people who have posted comments on it, “Klozman” and “Super.”
When Google told Concerned Hamburger about the subpoena, the blogger notified the other two. The three communicated via email and hired an attorney.
“It’s just wrong. It’s strong-armed, storm trooper type of tactics,” said Buffalo attorney Joseph M. Finnerty, who has filed a motion to quash the subpoena. He also called it an “assault on the First Amendment.”
The subpoena came to light when one of the posters, Super, identified himself and asked board members for an apology at Tuesday’s budget hearing. Robert Johnstun often attends School Board meetings and speaks out on various school issues, including the rights of special-needs children. He also posts to the blog and has used his own name in some of his postings.
“None of them apologized,” he said. “None of them even offered a reason why I was being brought into the lawsuit,” Johnstun said.
A spokeswoman for Google said that the company is not commenting on the Hamburg case but that privacy and security of data that users store with Google is “central” to its approach.
“Before complying with a government request, we make sure it follows the law and Google’s policies. We notify users about legal demands when appropriate, unless prohibited by law or court order. And if we believe a request is overly broad, we seek to narrow it,” she said in an email.
The subpoena to Google is part of the school district’s lawsuit against Sally Stephenson; her daughter Lyndsey Stephenson; and teacher Martha Kavanaugh. The district claims they secretly taped an executive session on Sept. 21, 2010, and is seeking damages from them. The women deny the charge. Since the lawsuit was filed in June 2012, Sally Stephenson has taken a seat on the School Board.
Johnstun is outraged that the district is spending thousands of dollars on the lawsuit.
“I am essentially paying my property taxes so the school can serve a subpoena for a lawsuit I have nothing to do with just to silence me,” he said.
His lawyer accused school district leaders of being “thin-skinned autocrats lavishly spending other people’s money to try and silence their critics.”
The school district’s attorney issued an email to Concerned Hamburger in January 2011, demanding that he or she “cease and desist” from administering the blog, immediately remove the contents from it, and said information on the blog is defamatory. He called the anonymous postings “cowardly” and said once the names of Concerned Hamburger and other users are confirmed, they would be served with legal papers.
Finnerty notes that the blogger and two posters were not included in the lawsuit filed against the three women. Concerned Hamburger has denied taping the meeting and said he did not know who did, Finnerty said. “This blogger has an absolute right to publish speech anonymously,” Finnerty said. “Sometimes, the only way you can safely speak truth to power is anonymously, because otherwise power tries to crush you.”
Concerned Hamburger intends to continue the blog.
“For almost three years and approximately 300K page hits, Concerned Hamburger has been operating as a citizen journalist reporting on the antics of the public faces of the Hamburg School District. Concerned is dedicated to reporting, and will continue to write on the school district despite their efforts to silence me and others,” Concerned Hamburger said in the blog.