News Story

Rochester school district under fire over transparency

Teachers union tried to interfere with FOIA responses

Parents in Oakland County have filed several lawsuits against the Rochester Community School District over its handling of Freedom of Information Act requests and its alleged retaliation against a concerned parent.

The district faces complaints from parents who were informed by the district that they would have to pay six- and seven-figure sums to get the materials they asked for in two FOIA requests. The district also settled a lawsuit recently with another parent who claimed the district harassed her after she questioned a school board decision.

Rochester schools informed parents that they would need to pay $176,000 for the release of materials in one FOIA request, and a whopping $18 million for materials named in a second request, according to ABC 7.

Recently released materials show the Rochester Education Association, the local teachers union, has involved itself in FOIA determinations.

Andrew Weaver, a parent in the district, submitted a FOIA request in March asking for copies of grievances filed against the district. Included in the materials disclosed by the district was a grievance filed in April by the local teachers union. The union says teachers have a right to review which materials are being disclosed and to challenge the release.

“Nor did the District allow Mrs. [redacted] to review said materials prior to releasing and thus allow her the opportunity to challenge whether they should fall under this FOIA request,” the union stated. “We further believe the materials do not fall under the FOIA request, and, therefore, should not have been shared even if provided in advance to Mrs. [redacted].”

This interference is not lawful, according to Steve Delie, director of labor policy at Mackinac Center for Public Policy, the publisher of Michigan Capitol Confidential.

“The FOIA contains objective standards for what can be obtained through FOIA, and what can be withheld,” Delie said. “The implication that a private actor is influencing that legal determination is unsettling to say the least. The district has an obligation to respond to FOIA requests as provided by law, regardless of the preferences of those who may be mentioned in a record.”

Delie pointed to Michigan Compiled Laws 15.232, which defines what is a public record, as well as 15.243, which provides for exemptions in some circumstances. He says the union has no right to challenge the district’s decisions on how to comply with the law, and it should not be afforded a pseudo-vote on what should be disclosed.

Andrew Weaver, whose FOIA revealed the union's actions, blasted the district's practices.

“Under the leadership of Superintendent [Robert] Shaner & REA President Doug Hill, Rochester Community Schools are more concerned they will offend political activists & entitled parents than they are about not having a plan to address learning loss or providing the proper support/protection to the good educators within Rochester Community Schools,” Weaver wrote. “Our children and their learning deserve to be priority number one."

The Michigan Education Association was listed as the contact for the local teachers union. Doug Pratt, director of public affairs for the MEA, did not respond to a request for comment.

The district recently settled a claim with a parent who claimed that Deputy Superintendent Debra Fragomeni called her employer after she questioned a school board decision. Elena Dinverno sued the district in federal court after losing her job, according to Fox News Detroit. The district paid Dinverno $116,209 in the settlement.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.