News Story

Parents Request School District’s ‘Critical Race’ Records, Get Bill For $409,000

Kent County district says it has 4,400 pounds worth of documents

A group of parents filed a Freedom of Information Act request with Forest Hills Public Schools, seeking certain documents from March 1, 2021, to May 11, 2021. The parents asked for all writings that mentioned “critical race theory,” “CRT,” “anti-racist,” “equity,” and several related terms.

School district officials responded that due to the volume of data involved, the local parents would have to pay $409,899.10 to see the documents.

Kyle Gilbert, a spokesman for Forest Hills Public Schools, said the district has turned over numerous email documents to parents at no charge. But this request, he said, was too voluminous.

“The original FOIA request from May 11, 2021 was composed of eight individual requested items. After investigation, the request generated 440,333 documents and emails and completing the request would have taken an estimated 9,800 hours of staff time. That’s nearly five years of staff time and over 4,400 lbs of paper. Even if the entire Forest Hills Public Schools HR department worked on this eight hours a day, five days a week, it would have taken months to fill.”

“We worked closely with the requester to cut the request down to what they were looking for and minimize costs, eventually landing on 1,930 documents and emails. This request still took around a week of staff time and we discounted everything we could.”

“To provide some context, between August 1st, 2020 and April 30, 2021 the District received 11 FOIA requests and did not charge for any of them. We do our best to work with requesters in order to provide what they’re seeking while keeping costs minimal.”

The FOIA request reveals a problem with the state’s open records law, including how it is making it too expensive to acquire public records.

The district provided a breakdown of the original $409,899 bill. It included the cost of fringe benefits provided to the individual gathering the records, which represented half of the $18.62 per hour the district spends to keep this person on the payroll.

District officials claimed also that it cost them $244,540, or 60% of the total amount charged, to separate materials that state law exempts from disclosure.

The school district did cooperate with the parents to lower costs by narrowing the scope of the request, as Gilbert mentioned above. Stefanie Boone, one of the Forest Hills parents who submitted the FOIA, said they did receive many documents they sought, for with they paid about $2,000.

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.