Olentangy schools must turn over records of Wuhan partnership to Ohio Supreme Court

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Olentangy Local School District must submit to the Ohio Supreme Court records pertaining to its cross-cultural partnership with Chinese educators, the Court ruled last week.

After ousted Liberty High School aide Antoinette Evans sued the district over its maintenance of records related to its collaboration with the Wuhan School System in China, Chief Justice Sharon Kennedy ordered the district on Thursday to release the requested records – at first for the court’s consideration – to determine whether they constitute public documents.

Evans’ public records lawsuit, filed before the Court in November, coincides with the former study hall monitor’s legal challenge against what she called her “forced” resignation from the district in 2021.

On April 7 that year, Evans – a 25-year veteran of the district – made a comment to a student to the gist of, “Can you believe that the coronavirus came from China and that China is making money from sales of PPE (personal protective equipment) to the United States?” according to her complaint before the Delaware County Common Pleas Court.

About a week later, school administrators informed Evans – whose speech they said constituted bigotry and racism – that she would be dismissed from the district, court documents indicate. In lieu of termination, Evans resigned.

She sued the district in November 2021, claiming her First and Fourteenth amendment rights to free speech and equal protection were violated. 

Evans’ speech about the origins of the coronavirus conflicted with the district’s long-standing “promotion of leftist/Marxist/Communist ideologies” like Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ+ rights, her attorneys contended in the lawsuit.

“Meanwhile, the values and ideologies of people like Evans, meaning Judeo-Christian values and an appreciation of Western Civilization, are suppressed, mocked, or even punished,” the complaint read.

After Delaware County Judge David Gormley ruled against Evans by upholding a state commission’s refusal to review her termination, she filed an appeal before the Delaware County Court of Appeals, where the case currently awaits consideration.

In her separate public records complaint before the state’s highest court, Evans urged for the release of the district’s records pertaining to its 2019 agreement with Wuhan School System leaders to establish a cross-cultural exchange between the two districts.

Establishing a partnership with an institution “beholden to the agenda of the Chinese Community Party,” Evans wrote in her complaint, could endanger the education of Olentangy students and thus publicizing records pertaining to the relationship is of “great public importance.”

To determine whether the records are subject to disclosure under the Ohio Public Records Act, the Court ordered the district to submit for Justices’ internal viewing unredacted copies of the following:

A settlement is expected between the two parties this week, Evans’ attorney said.

A district spokesperson did not immediately respond to NBC4’s request for comment.