News Story

School District Wants $14k To Give Parent Records On Mask Mandates

New legislation would require all public schools post annual curriculum info at no charge

Editor's note: The headline was changed to reflect the topic of the FOIA request.

Across the state of Michigan, concerned parents are trying to discover what’s happening behind the scenes in their children’s school districts when it comes to the use of race in the curriculum and policies that require children to wear face masks.

As they seek answers, some parents are finding that many state and local government officials have made using the Michigan Freedom of Information Act prohibitively expensive.

The current FOIA law allows municipalities and school districts to levy charges that far exceed what most parents can afford as they seek information.

A recent example involves a group of parents in Saline. They submitted a FOIA request for public records, and the school district replied that they would have to pay $14,293 to get them.

In many instances, insufficiently precise requests from citizens who have no experience with this law invite claims from public officials that it will take their employees hundreds of hours to comply.

For example, the Saline parents asked for “any and all records and correspondence” related to masking policies between March and September of 2021. The request extended to documents that involved the superintendent, the local board of education, the local teachers union and the Washtenaw County health department.

The school district responded with a projected cost of $14,293.84. The district assumed that the employee compiling the records would be someone collecting an $84,000 annual salary. It also assumed that fulfilling the request would take this person 274 hours, or nearly seven full weeks of a 40-hour-a-week job. That one item accounted for $11,072 of the $14,293 total.

Saline Superintendent Steve Laatsch issued a statement on how the district addresses FOIA requests. 

“When processing FOIA requests," Laatsch stated, "a technology analyst searches for keywords and phrases based upon the request within our database to find relevant communication. The analyst then estimates the amount of time that it would take to ... determine if any information needs to be redacted. Based on the number of emails, this will determine the cost... The broader the request (in terms of scope and time period covered) the greater the cost. To assist community members who want to do a FOIA , we recommend that they help us narrow the search by narrowing the scope and period of time, resulting in a significant reduction of costs.”

A bill introduced in the Michigan Senate last week with seven Republican cosponsors would make it far easier for those parents or anyone else to obtain curriculum information. Senate Bill 868 would require school districts to post on their websites by July 1 of each year the “learning materials and activities that were used for pupil instruction” in the most recent school year, by subject area and grade.

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.