School district wants $14,000 to give parents records on racialized curriculum and mask mandates – Michigan Capitol Confidential
New legislation would require all public schools to publish annual curriculum information for free
Across the state of Michigan, concerned parents are trying to find out what’s going on behind the scenes in their children’s school districts regarding the use of race in the curriculum and the policies that force children to wear… face masks.
As they search for answers, some parents find that many state and local government officials have made using Michigan’s Freedom of Information law prohibitively expensive.
Current FOIA law allows municipalities and school districts to levy fees that far exceed what most parents can afford when seeking information.
A recent example involves a group of parents in Saline. They submitted a FOIA request for the public records, and the school district responded that they would have to pay $14,293 to get them.
In many cases, insufficiently specific requests from citizens who have no experience with this law prompt officials to claim that it will take their employees hundreds of hours to comply.
For example, Saline’s parents requested “all records and correspondence” related to masking policies between March and September 2021. The request extended to documents involving the superintendent, local school board, local teachers’ union and the Washtenaw Departmental Health Service.
The school district responded with an estimated cost of $14,293.84. The district assumed that the employee compiling the records would be someone earning an annual salary of $84,000. He also assumed that fulfilling the request would take that person 274 hours, or nearly seven full weeks of a 40-hour-a-week job. This item alone accounted for $11,072 of the total of $14,293.
Saline Superintendent Steve Laatsch released a statement on how the district handles FOIA requests.
“When processing FOIA requests,” Laatsch said, “a technology analyst searches for keywords and phrases based on the request in our database to find a relevant communication. The analyst then estimates the time it would take to… determine if any information should be redacted. Depending on the number of emails, this will determine the cost… The larger the request (in terms of scope and period covered), the higher the cost. To help community members who want to do FOIA, we recommend that they help us narrow down the search by reducing the scope and time period, resulting in a significant cost reduction.
A bill introduced in the Michigan Senate last week with seven Republican co-sponsors would make it much easier for those parents or anyone else to get information about the program. Senate Bill 868 would require school districts to post on their websites by July 1 each year the “learning materials and activities that have been used for the instruction of students” during the course of the school year. most recent school year, by subject and by year.