A parent being sued over his opposition to Wake County’s high school math curriculum charges in new legal documents that the defamation lawsuit is an attempt to chill free speech rights.
The Mathematics Vision Project filed a lawsuit in July in a Utah state court accusing Blain Dillard of making false and defamatory statements about the MVP Math program that the company says have harmed its business. In a motion filed Monday asking for the lawsuit’s dismissal, Dillard’s attorney, Jeffrey Hunt, accuses MVP of seeking retribution against his client and trying to silence critics.
“It is alarming that a parent would be sued for defamation for expressing opinions and making truthful statements about his son’s high school math curriculum,” Hunt said in a statement. “The lawsuit appears to be an attempt to silence Mr. Dillard and other critics of MVP, and to chill their First Amendment rights to speak about MVP’s services.
“We believe the lawsuit has no legal merit and we intend to vigorously defend the right of Mr. Dillard, as well as other parents, to have a voice in the education of their children.”
In addition to calling for the suit’s dismissal, Dillard filed a counterclaim against MVP on Monday asking for recovery of his costs, including legal fees.
Dillard’s supporters have set up a website, https://sites.google.com/site/parentrightsnc/home, to help raise money for his legal defense and to post documents from the lawsuit.
Utah-based MVP said in an email Wednesday that it can’t provide any additional information about any pending litigation.
The lawsuit is part of the contentious fight that has seen parents and students hold school walkouts, protests and speak at Wake County school board meetings. They’ve also launched an aggressive social media campaign to try to get Wake to abandon MVP Math.
Since the 2017-18 school year, Wake has used materials from the Mathematics Vision Project to teach high school-level math based on Common Core standards. Instead of hearing a lecture and memorizing formulas, the focus has shifted to students working in groups to solve problems while teachers act as facilitators.
Critics charge that the format doesn’t teach the materials, resulting in students coming out of the class struggling to understand what they would have mastered from a more traditional math course. They say it’s forced families to pay for private tutors to help their children learn the material.
The school board voted Aug. 6 to uphold a recommendation from a district review committee to continue using MVP. The district is making changes this school year that it says will improve how the classes are taught.
School officials have said they did not know ahead of time that MVP was planning to sue Dillard.
In the lawsuit, MVP cites the statements made by Dillard at school board meetings, in news interviews and on social media. The company accuses Dillard of making statements they say are false such as students are “drowning in math chaos Hell” and that reports of math improvement had been “falsified.”
Statements defamatory or “rhetorical hyperbole?”
Hunt says that the lawsuit doesn’t meet legal standards for defamation. The brief says the statements picked by MVP are “nonactionable opinion based on disclosed facts, satire or parody, and rhetorical hyperbole” that were “made during the course of a robust debate during which opposing parties are expected to express strong and divergent views.”
“This case is about a company attempting to use the judicial process to punish a parent who dared to voice reasonable concerns that the company’s educational program was not beneficial to his child and other similarly situated children,” Hunt said in his legal brief. “Instead of addressing such concerns in a productive dialogue, the company is seeking to silence them outright.”
Dillard’s arguments were echoed by Tom Loveless, an education researcher formerly at the Brookings Institution, who is not involved in the case.
A win by MVP “would certainly cast a shadow on the idea that parents have a right to participate in their own children’s education, to criticize schools for buying particular textbooks, to voice their concerns about instruction and curriculum,” Loveless said, according to Education Week.