Karrie Marren v. Tennessee School Boards Association

December 18, 2019 9:05AM

Current Status of Lawsuit: Chancellor ruled that TSBA is functionally equivalent to a government entity and therefore subject to public records requests.

Karrie – fighting for transparency and parental control in Williamson County Schools

Parents are entitled to full transparency when it comes to the education of their children. 

Sunshine is the best disinfectant, as the saying goes. To this end, Tennessee enacted a rigorous public records law so citizens could keep an eye on what government officials are up to. The government cannot evade transparency by offloading governmental responsibilities to private actors.

The Tennessee School Boards Association (TSBA) is a prime example. TSBA is required by the state to serve as the exclusive organization responsible for training local school board members. While TSBA is notionally a private entity, the school boards they train are not.  When TSBA obtained a governmental mandate to complete governmental duties, almost entirely paid for by taxpayers (over 90%), it also obtained a responsibility to be fully transparent.

Ultimately, this is all about how to teach public school children, and whether parents are entitled to full transparency in how the educational policy of this state is set. TSBA may not be a governmental entity, but it is the functional equivalent of one.

Fortunately, the public records laws apply to governments, and also to their functional equivalents. Simply put, perform a public job and you owe public transparency. If the TSBA is going to continue to fulfill a vital governmental role, then it must operate in the light of day. 

Karrie Marren, like many Tennessee moms, is extremely attentive to her children’s educational needs. Karrie began to worry about the direction of her children’s education. Consistently frustrated by an inability to get answers about the schooling of her child, she sought to learn more from the Williamson Co. school board, but she only ran into more walls. When Karrie learned that it was TSBA who trained school boards, she sought to learn the role the TSBA has played in altering the terrain of educational policy in the state, and in developing a curriculum for training school board members. To that end, Karrie submitted a public records request.

Based on their taxpayer funding and public charge to educate school board members, Karrie asked the TSBA to share documents that would shed light on how TSBA’s role in educational policy. TSBA issued a blanket denial, claiming that they were a private entity that could operate in the dark.  Karrie then turned to Beacon. With Beacon’s assistance, Karrie seeks a ruling on whether TSBA can operate outside of citizen oversight.

The Legal Team 

Braden Boucek is the Vice President of Legal Affairs for the Beacon Center.

Meggan DeWitt is the Staff Attorney for the Beacon Center.



Plaintiff’s Motion to Show Cause

TSBA’s Response to the Motion to Show Cause 

Reply to TSBA’s Response to the Motion to Show Cause

Memorandum and Order