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School district claims gender identity is 'medical' to hide LGBTQ club advisors' identities

Parent Nicole Solas is waging a fight over access to records and free speech.

Published: September 6, 2023 11:00pm

Updated: September 7, 2023 11:23am

Rhode Island's biggest school district is refusing to name the adult advisors to its LGBTQ student clubs, claiming the parent activist seeking their identities posted "medical information" about the primary subject of the public records request.

That medical information is the gender identity of Aarav Sundaresh, Providence Public Schools director of equity and belonging, a biological woman who has spoken publicly about identifying as a man. The district even identifies Sundaresh as a "founding Core Collective member for the National Trans Educators Network."

Nicole Solas, a parent and lawyer, is now demanding that Providence deputy city solicitor Charles Ruggerio, who is representing the district, face professional sanctions for "wilfully [sic] and knowingly lying" to Attorney General Peter Neronha about Solas, also a lawyer, "doxing" Sundaresh. Solis denies doxxing, arguing her statements were protected by free-speech.

"Ruggerio seeks to suppress my protected speech on Twitter [now known as X] by weaponizing my own protected speech about public records HE provided to me in order to suppress PUBLIC information" about the "volunteer-employees" who advise Genders and Sexualities Alliances (GSA), Solas told Neronha's office Tuesday in correspondence shared with Just the News.

"The identities of all adults volunteering or working in public school should not be a government secret," Solas wrote. "And no publicly paid attorney should ever try to suppress the First Amendment rights of the citizens who pay him." (X is not embedding Solas's posts, so Just the News is posting them as screenshots.)

Nicole Solas calls out Providence Public Schools lawyer Charles Ruggerio
Nicole Solas/X
Nicole Solas calls out Providence Public Schools lawyer Charles Ruggerio

Another high-profile controversy over gender identity and school transparency is brewing in suburban Washington, D.C.

Fairfax County Public Schools published a "Student Rights and Responsibilities" guide last month that promises "non-disclosure of gender identity and/or sexual orientation" as well as access to restrooms and locker rooms "consistent with the student’s gender identity, faith, and for any other reasons."

Advocacy group Parents Defending Education claims the new guide is in "direct conflict" with model policies by Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R), including parental consent for name and pronoun changes. "Based on this wording, a fetish is an accepted justification," PDE outreach director Erika Sanzi told The Daily Signal.

"If a school board voted not to adopt policies consistent with the model policies, parents can sue under current state law," a spokesperson for Attorney General Jason Miyares told the Daily Signal, elaborating on his recent official opinion on Youngkin's model policies.

FCPS pointed Just the News to Superintendent Michelle Reid's Aug. 15 statement, which says the district’s legal review determined its current policies "consistent with federal and state anti-discrimination laws as required by the new model policies," not the model policies themselves. 

Solas started her quest for transparency in Rhode Island public schools more than two years ago, quickly drawing opposition for her aggressive filing of state Access to Public Records Act (APRA) requests.

Teachers unions went to court against Solas and her local district, South Kingstown, to block the release of records on curriculum and policies related to critical race theory, antiracism, gender theory and children's sexuality.

The unions' legal filing seeks an injunction asking the court to "restrain the School Department Defendants from providing responses to any of [Solas'] pending requests until a determination can be made by this Court that the School Department is required to produce such documents."

Solas told Just the News her lawyers are currently deposing members of the South Kingstown school board and its BIPOC Advisory Committee in her ongoing fight to open committee meetings to the public. BIPOC means black, indigenous and people of color.

Emily Cummiskey deposition
Nicole Solas/X
Emily Cummiskey deposition

Since the Providence district remains under state supervision, "all Rhode Island residents pay taxes toward Providence schools," Solas told Just the News. If AG Neronha determines the GSA volunteer-employees are exempt from APRA, "I have standing as a Rhode Island resident to bring a public records lawsuit,” she added.

Solas filed an APRA request this spring for communications between Sundaresh and staff from Youth Pride RI, which started as a YWCA "support group" before spinning off as an LGBTQ youth advocacy nonprofit. Its "Little Unicorns" weekly Zoom meetings with children ages 5-9 do not require parents to attend with their children.

"It's a program for purportedly gay 5-year-olds to talk to adults about gender and sexuality on zoom," Solas wrote on X earlier this year, pointing to the group's 2019 Form 990 that shows it received more than $165,000 in government grants.

Youth Pride RI "Little Unicorns"
Nicole
Youth Pride RI "Little Unicorns"

Solas filed an APRA complaint with Neronha's office when the district redacted the personal email addresses and names of the volunteer-employees for a high school GSA club in its 98-page production on Sundaresh-Youth Pride RI communications.

Responding to special assistant attorney general Adam Roach in June, deputy city solicitor Ruggerio said the volunteer-employees should be exempt from APRA because they advise GSA clubs "on a purely voluntary basis" with no compensation, outside the "scope of their employment."

But Ruggerio also pointed to Solas' May 30 X post with a screenshot from a 2022 email about the GSA club that Sundaresh advises. "We're currently jamming on Pride events" and will march in the LGBTQ parade, the self-identified "trans GSA Advisor" wrote.

Ruggerio told Roach, without elaborating, this X post disclosed Sundaresh's medical information and suggests Solas is likely to "'dox' or otherwise intimidate and harass volunteers, employees, and stakeholders" such as the redacted GSA advisors.

Solas pointed Just the News to Sundaresh accepting an award from GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) for helping in the passage of the Rhode Island Uniform Parentage Act

"I am transgender" but originally identified as a lesbian, Sundaresh says in the 2020 video posted by GLAD. Sundaresh also mentioned advising a GSA club and discussing the parentage bill with students, which Solas said suggests the district employee "uses his club for political action with students." Sundaresh fought school reopening in fall 2020 as well.

Ruggerio made "knowingly false arguments" to Neronha's office about Sundaresh's supposed medical information and "should be disciplined by the Rhode Island Supreme Court Disciplinary Council" and Neronha himself with "whatever action [is] within his power," Solas wrote told the AG's office Tuesday.

An hour after Just the News sought an update on Neronha's decision about APRA and volunteer-employees, Roach informed Solas, Ruggerio and others on the mother's Tuesday email that "we strive to issue a finding on this matter as promptly as possible."

That was the first AG response Solas has received since Ruggerio claimed she doxxed Sundaresh more than two months earlier, Solas told Just the News, forwarding Roach's message.

"I think the AG is ignoring the predicament created by Providence Public Schools' ridiculous and bad faith response to my complaint to delay making a finding at all," Solas said, claiming that Neronha took "almost a whole year" to rule in her favor on an earlier APRA complaint about withheld curricula.

"We're still reviewing the matter," a spokesperson for the AG told Just the News in a phone call shortly after Roach's email. "We've received a record number" of APRA requests in recent years.

Ruggerio has not answered Just the News emails seeking to confirm his only evidence of Solas sharing medical information was the X post identifying Sundaresh as transgender. Sundaresh has not answered email, text and Facebook queries.