09/11/2023 - California Abandons Attempt to Disqualify Professor as an Expert Witness

The California Department of Education has ceased its pursuit of a $50,000 fine and research disconnection for a K-12 researcher affiliated with Stanford University. This action comes as the researcher, Thomas Dee, the Barnett Family Professor at Stanford’s Graduate School of Education, provided expert testimony in an ongoing lawsuit against the agency.

Dee recently submitted an expert report in a protracted case centered on the state's response to pandemic-related learning loss among K-12 students. Subsequently, an official from the California Department of Education communicated with Dee, alleging breaches of two prior agreements between Dee and the department.

“The California Department of Education (CDE) is suspending any obligations or commitments under the agreement with Stanford, demands mitigation of damages and reserves all its rights,” the department wrote. Using the abbreviated case name, it further wrote, “You may not testify for, advise or consult with the Cayla J plaintiffs.”

These agreements pertained to matters such as confidentiality, conflicts of interest, and various aspects of the California Department of Education's data handling. Thomas Dee clarified that he had endorsed these agreements in his capacity as the faculty director of the John W. Gardner Center for Youth and Their Communities.

However, Dee emphasized that he had not personally reviewed the data, highlighting that the information in question is unrelated to his expert report. Furthermore, he asserted that he is not actively engaged in the study for which the data is intended. This study specifically examines the impact of the department's accountability measures on alternative schools serving students with motivation and behavioral challenges, as well as those at risk of dropping out.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Public Counsel, a public interest law firm advocating for California's children in the lawsuit, expressed their disagreement with the prohibition on Thomas Dee's testimony. In a recent letter, the California Department of Education confirmed that it would not enforce paragraph 16 of its standard research agreement and paragraph six of attachment D (referred to as 'the provisions') concerning Thomas Dee's involvement in this lawsuit.

The letter, authored by Len Garfinkel, the department's general counsel, was directed to Brad Seligman, a judge presiding in the Superior Court of California, Alameda County.

The California Department of Education had also issued a threat of imposing fines on Sean Reardon, another Stanford researcher specializing in K-12 education, known for his frequent appearances in national media. In response to an inquiry from Inside Higher Ed on Friday, Reardon revealed that he had not yet received any communication from the state that would lift the restriction on his testimony in the Cayla J case or any other matter.
Reardon further explained that the agreement with the department was facilitated through Stanford’s Learning Policy Institute (LPI), which has received a letter. This development raises the possibility that all signatories to the LPI CDE data use agreement might no longer face constraints on testifying, although the situation remains somewhat unclear.

Considering the existing uncertainty and other unrelated factors, Reardon conveyed that he has not yet made a decision regarding his potential participation as an expert witness.