An educator who spent more than 20 years teaching in Cabarrus County Schools before retiring due to her dissatisfaction with what she deems “North Carolina’s continued degradation of public schools” has filed a lawsuit in Cabarrus County Superior Court seeking “disclosure of public documents…along with the attorney’s fees recoverable under the Public Records Act.”
The complaint alleges the school district failed to turn over records related to school board business upon request, including board member text messages.
Kim Biondi began her teaching career in Cabarrus County in 1999. She served as department chair and head of various school committees and was a finalist for Cabarrus County Teacher of the Year. Biondi was also an active advocate for change in public education, including speaking up about pandemic safety measures.
Biondi and others were vocal about the need for virtual learning and masking during the most dangerous points of the COVID pandemic. They expressed their views in a variety of ways, including standing on public sidewalks holding signs outside Cabarrus Board of Education meetings.
Beginning in early 2021, Biondi and other outspoken educators were targeted by members of a social media group called Make A Difference headed by a Cabarrus resident named Kenneth Wortman. Wortman started a petition calling for the removal of dozens of teachers as well as that of Superintendent Chris Lowder.
The petition reads, in part, “The teachers continuously break county policy by demonstrating, protesting, and trying to force their views to make a change. This happens in front of the board, and the superintendent allows it to continue.”
Superintendent Lowder, an extremely popular and successful leader who had devoted thirty years to the district, abruptly announced his retirement in February 2021.
In addition to launching the petition, Wortman filed hundreds of grievances against Cabarrus County Schools teachers and staff alleging bullying and indoctrination. The grievances resulted in judicial hearings conducted by the Cabarrus Board of Education. Wortman was represented in the hearings by attorney Jonathan Vogel. In all cases, teachers who were targets of grievances kept their jobs.
Weeks after the grievance hearings were held, Cabarrus Board of Education terminated its attorney (Brian Shaw of Raleigh-based Schwartz and Shaw) and hired Jonathan Vogel as its new legal counsel. Wortman is on the November ballot for Cabarrus County Commission.
In the wake of the superintendent’s resignation and the dismissal of the board’s general counsel, the Cabarrus Board of Education eliminated the role of Board Clerk, a position which for years had been responsible for documentation and record keeping.
In January 2022, controversy erupted among Cabarrus educators after the district’s executive staff and principals received 6% raises while teachers were given just a 2% salary supplement increase. Shortly afterward, Cabarrus County Schools’ Chief Financial Officer Kelly Kluttz suddenly resigned after more than twenty years with the district.
Kim Biondi was interested in learning more about how these controversial and highly impactful staffing changes had taken place. She had observed board members frequently on their cell phones during Cabarrus Board of Education meetings and suspected they were using text messages to communicate about official school business.
On February 4, 2022, the Cabarrus County Board of Education held an emergency meeting. Although the meeting was closed to the public, details about a confidential matter the board had dealt with during the meeting were soon being discussed by members of the “Make a Difference” social media group.
The next day Biondi filed a request for text exchanges between board members and text message communications between board members, their attorneys, and members of the public for the 10 days surrounding that closed board meeting.
In response to the request, then-Cabarrus County Schools Director of Communications and Public Information Ronnye Boone informed Biondi that “the district does not have access to board members’ personal cell phones.”
North Carolina public records law covers documents “regardless of physical form or characteristics, made or received pursuant to law or ordinance in connection with the transaction of public business.”
In other words, it doesn’t matter if Cabarrus County Board of Education members were using personal cell phones, smoke signals or freaking carrier pigeons. If they were communicating about school board business, the law is clear that those records must be furnished upon request.
Biondi also requested text messages involving the board clerk whose position had been eliminated. She was informed that the clerk’s district cell phone had been “recycled,” so none of the data on it phone was available.
In June 2022 Biondi contacted Cabarrus County Schools leaders to urge compliance with her lawful information requests, giving them until August 1 to provide the documents “to avoid further legal action.”
On July 18, 2022, Biondi received a letter from Cabarrus’s Board attorney informing her that the district had decided to report her to the Department of Public instruction for the grievance that had been filed against her more than a year prior, despite the fact that she was no longer employed by CCS and no longer even had an active teaching license with the state. Biondi perceived this move as retaliation for her dogged pursuit of public records.
Biondi’s attorney filed a writ of mandamus in Cabarrus County Superior Court on September 16, 2022. The complaint asks the court to compel Cabarrus Board of Education to produce the records Biondi requested, refrain from further destruction of public records, and pay for the legal fees she incurred in pursuing the records.
You can read Kim Biondi’s complaint and all supporting evidence below:Publicly-Filed-Complaint