School districts charging ‘exorbitant fees’ for record requests to keep info out of parents’ reach

According to an explosive new report, school districts across the country are attempting to “price out” concerned parents from obtaining records, such as information on the curriculum their children are being taught, by charging “exorbitant” fees — in the tens of thousands and even millions — for documents they are legally entitled to receive.

After speaking to parents in states such as Michigan, Oregon, and Rhode Island, and consulting with public records experts, Fox News Digital (FND) reports that parents fear retaliation from the school districts if they share the fee stubs indicating what they’ve paid for the information with the media.

(VIDEO: Fox News Digital)

In Maryland, one parent from Frederick County Public Schools was told her request for one month of emails between “various entities” would set her back $5,000.

“I never got the [records] because that’s well beyond what I’m willing to pay for information my tax dollars already paid for,” she said.

In the Beaver State, the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) charged $10 per email review involved in requests.

“For example, to review 963 emails, the fee was $9,630; for 382 emails, the fee was $3,820; and 109 emails would cost $1,090, according to a complaint with the attorney general,” that Fox News reviewed. “The total fees subject to the complaint were ultimately reduced from nearly $15K to a few hundred bucks.”

An email from the ODE to another parent revealed that their request would cost $1,525, but the parent could “narrow the scope of your request to reduce your overall cost estimate.”

“How could I narrow my request?” the parent asked. “Is this not a single document? … I do not understand what you mean by narrowing or how 1 document costs $1,525 to download and email to me. Or why 3 hours of time is needed by IT to again download 1 document and email it. Please explain.”

But $1,500 is a pittance compared to what a district in Rochester, Michigan, has reportedly charged. It can cost information-seeking parents as much as $18 million to complete their requests.

“I don’t know what they’re hiding, but they’re definitely hiding information,” one parent told local media. “Why make it so difficult for parents to get [public records] if they don’t have something to hide?”

Another Rochester parent was asked to pony up $172,951.67 for her public records fee.

In a statement to FoxNews Digital, the school district said, “FOIA allows the District to charge certain fees incurred for processing and responding to FOIA request when a failure to charge a fee would result in unreasonably high costs to the District because of the nature of the request.”

High-priced examples of such requests include “voluminous requests, requests that require time-consuming searches, and significant redaction.”

Balking at the insane costs or challenging the school districts’ policies can have dire consequences.

“There are some parents who have in the millions [for fees] and most parents are afraid to speak out,” said parent Laurie Madigan.

In March, Rochester School District was forced to pay a settlement of $190K to one parent, Elena Dinverno, who had advocated online for the reopening of the schools for in-person learning, after her employer was allegedly called by a school district member. The call resulted in the parent’s termination.

Rochester School District, it was alleged, was tracking more than 200 parents and putting them on a list.

Attorneys for the district argued that Rochester did nothing wrong, it wasn’t “engaged in retaliation,” and it kept no lists.

“Rochester Community Schools does not have a dossier,” the district said previously. “The notion of a dossier appears to have been conceived by an attorney for litigation purposes.”

“I didn’t know that anyone was monitoring anything until I was called into the HR office,” Dinverno said.

She had been accused of belonging to a Facebook group that engaged in “threatening behavior” by Debra Fragomeni, a deputy superintendent with the district.

“The fact that they were doing it in secret, the fact that they were compiling dossiers of parents… was shocking to me,” Dinverno stated.

“If public information is priced outside of affordability, and it’s not really public information, it’s a government secret,” said Nicole Solas, a parent activist from South Kingstown, Rhode Island.

Solas racked up $74K worth of requests regarding her kindergartener’s school curriculum.

“I don’t think [this fee] is reasonable under any circumstances,” said Solas’s attorney, Jon Riches. “I mean, the parents have a right to know what their kids are going to learn; and that includes getting access to the curriculum, to lesson plans and anything else in the classroom.”

“There should be no charge for [it],” he argued. “There shouldn’t be a formal public records process. The district should put that information up on a publicly available website so parents and their kids can make informed decisions.”

For her concerns, Solas was hit with a lawsuit from the National Education Association, a teachers union with “$300 million in a slush fund.”

“Being sued by a special interest group, the NEA, that has $300 million in a slush fund that’s available to just bully stay-at-home moms like me was a real eye-opener to how public school really operates,” Solas said.

According to Riches, “Essentially [they were] trying to stop the public records process. I think it was a pure intimidation tactic to tell parents that they know what’s best for their kids. And if parents are going to be active and be responsible and try and get information, then, well, you know, they don’t like it. And then you’re going to be on their list next.”


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