KIRKWOOD, Mo. – A new lawsuit accuses the Kirkwood School District of withholding public records and violating Missouri’s Sunshine law amid controversy over content published in a student yearbook last year.

Attorneys with the Thomas More Society filed the lawsuit on May 23 on behalf of two Missouri residents. The 62-page lawsuit targets the Kirkwood School District, Superintendent David Ulrich, and Custodian of Records Laura Heidenreich.

The lawsuit alleges that the school district undermined the rights of parents to access information under Missouri’s Sunshine Law through a pattern of behavior since 2022. It cites 14 Sunshine requests involving a parent and the school district, several of which were deemed to be delayed, incomplete, or non-existent responses.

At the center of the lawsuit is a survey allegedly emailed to students during the 2022–23 school year over sexual behaviors. The lawsuit says a Kirkwood High School employee sent the survey on Oct. 17, 2022, after communication between student yearbook staff members and school officials.

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The survey results later led to a portion of a 2023 yearbook that shared student opinions on hookups, the concept of a casual sexual relationship, and its benefits and consequences. Some parents around the school district questioned the content for “racy” themes, and there was also a photo of birth control in the background, according to FOX 2’s May 2023 report.

The lawsuit claims the decision to send out a survey to students regarding sexual behavior was made without providing parents with a notice or an opt-out opportunity for parents who did not want their children to complete the survey. The lawsuit claims this is a violation of school district and federal policy, later prompting the Sunshine requests.

According to one Sunshine request cited in the lawsuit, in May 2023, a parent sent a request to Heidenreich that sought “the full yearbook survey that was sent to KHS students on October 17, 2022.” Heidenreich reportedly said the district had a copy of the email sent to students, but the link to the survey in the email was expired.

The lawsuit claims that the survey “was intentionally deleted” on an unknown date and that other surveys sent to students throughout the school year are still existing.

The lawsuit also accuses Ulrich of interfering in responses to records requests, limiting employees’ ability to respond to requests, and providing false information as to who originally sent the survey.

The 10-count lawsuit accuses the Kirkwood School District, Ulrich and Heidenreich of the “Knowing and Purposeful Violation of Missouri’s Sunshine Law” on several occasions from May 2023 to May 2024.

The lawsuit seeks a judgement declaring that the 14 Sunshine requests are open records under Missouri’s Sunshine law and an injunction requiring the Kirkwood School District to search all available records and provide copies of all requested records. It also seeks civil penalties against the school district, Ulrich, and Heidenreich.

The Kirkwood School District sent this statement to FOX 2 on the lawsuit on behalf of spokesperson Steph Deidrick:

“While the Kirkwood School District does not typically comment on pending litigation, we believe it is important for the community to know that the allegations in the lawsuit simply are not true.

The District has responded to dozens of informal and formal requests for information and documents from the plaintiffs over the past year and has provided thousands of pages of documents responsive to these requests. The lawsuit is particularly disappointing because the District has expended so much time and effort to comply with the Sunshine Act.

Although this litigation will be a drain on resources that should be directed to the education of students, it will not diminish the good work that Kirkwood Schools has accomplished for our students and school community – and that we will continue to accomplish going forward.”