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FALSE: Attack Ad’s Claim Tony Thurmond Was ‘Sued By The ACLU’

Rich Pedroncelli / AP file

Union-backed state Assemblyman Tony Thurmond is running against Marshall Tuck, who previously led the nonprofit Partnership for Los Angeles Schools and the charter network Green Dot Public Schools, for California Superintendent.

Rich Pedroncelli / AP file

PolitiFact California looks at claims made by elected officials, candidates and groups and rates them as: True, Mostly True, Half True, Mostly False, False and Pants On Fire.

Was candidate for California schools chief Tony Thurmond "sued by the ACLU"?

That's one of the attention-grabbing claims in a recent TV attack ad and campaign mailer by a group supporting Marshall Tuck, Thurmond’s opponent in the race.

The two Democrats are running for State Superintendent of Public Instruction. Thurmond is a state assemblyman who represents Richmond, Berkeley and other East Bay communities and is supported by teacher unions. Tuck is a former education executive backed by charter school groups. The incumbent, Tom Torlakson, will be termed out in January after serving two four-year terms.

Several recent attack ads by each side, funded by tens of millions of campaign contributions, have turned the typically under-the-radar race into a hotly-contested one.

We wanted to know whether there was evidence to support the claim Thurmond was "sued by the ACLU."

Our research

Before he was elected to the state Legislature, Thurmond was a board member for the West Contra Costa Unified School District, based in Richmond, from 2008 to 2012.

The TV attack ad and its claim about the lawsuit refer to this period of Thurmond’s career. Here’s the full version of the ad:

"Before he was running for State Superintendent, politician Tony Thurmond was responsible for a school district with widespread budget problems. Ranked last in the state for failing to serve students of color. Sued for leaving at-risk students in rotting trailers with mushrooms growing in the floors. Reprimanded by the Obama Administration for failing to address widespread sexual harassment and assault in district schools. Tony Thurmond failed the students he was supposed to help. California deserves better."

 

The ad was produced by Students, Parents and Teachers supporting Marshall Tuck, an independent expenditure group created by EdVoice, a nonprofit that supports charter schools.

During the voiceover, the ad uses large text that reads: "TONY THURMOND: Sued by the ACLU" to relay this claim, blurring the line between Thurmond and the school district.

The campaign mailer is even less subtle, using bold block letters reading: ACLU. WHY DID THE ACLU FILE A LAWSUIT AGAINST TONY THURMOND?

We agreed with analysis from EdSource, a nonprofit education news group, on this misleading nature of this claim:

"The ad’s statement that Thurmond was sued over school facilities is technically accurate, in that he was named as a defendant board member in an American Civil Liberties Union’s lawsuit against West Contra Costa Unified. However, the lawsuit named every member of the school board, along with the district, its superintendent and its associate superintendent. The district’s daily management falls to its administration, not the elected board members."

Singling out Thurmond for the problems cited in the June 2012 lawsuit gives the wrong impression. He served on the board during the period cited in the suit, but was not directly responsible for the conditions.

Abdi Soltani, executive director of the ACLU Foundation of Northern California, wrote in a letter to EdVoice that the foundation, not the national ACLU, filed the lawsuit. Soltani added that the foundation had nothing to do with the campaign mailer and doesn’t endorse candidates.

A spokeswoman for EdVoice pointed us to a website created by the independent expenditure group backing Tuck. It repeats the same claims as the TV ad and includes a link to the lawsuit. But it doesn’t connect Thurmond directly to any of the unsafe conditions.

When we asked Thurmond’s campaign about the TV spot and mailer, it pointed to groups and individuals from the NAACP to U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris and San Francisco Mayor London Breed, who have all called out the claims.

In a related fact check, we rated False the claim Thurmond was "reprimanded" by the Obama administration

Our ruling

A recent TV spot and campaign mailer by a group supporting Marshall Tuck claimed Tony Thurmond was "sued by the ACLU."

In reality, ACLU Foundation of Northern California filed a lawsuit in 2012 against the West Contra Costa Unified School District over unsafe school conditions. All five members of the district’s board, including Thurmond, were named in the lawsuit, along with the district’s administrators.

The lawsuit, however, doesn’t directly tie Thurmond to any of the school conditions, which are managed daily by administrators, not board members.

By focusing on Thurmond only, the campaign mailer and the text of the TV ad distort the facts, giving the wrong impression he was the sole target of the lawsuit and uniquely responsible. That’s simply not the case.  

We rated the claim False.


FALSE – The statement is not accurate.

Click here for more on the six PolitiFact ratings and how we select facts to check.

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