In a previous article, we discussed the difference between curriculum and standards. We also discussed how some school districts are making it very difficult for parents to access their child’s curriculum. It is especially challenging since schools are moving to digital curricula instead of good old-fashioned textbooks. The curriculum is considered a public record. Thankfully, laws do exist to allow citizens to make requests for public records held by government offices, and school districts fall into that category. These laws are often referred to as sunshine laws.
States may use different terms, Freedom of Information Act, Open Records, or Right to Know, but all public records are available for inspection unless specifically exempted by law. These types of requests are valuable tools that allow parents to access information when the teacher, school, or school district is unwilling to provide information that has been directly requested.
WHERE DO I BEGIN?
Go to the specific agency’s website to find their protocol for requesting open records. For example, start with your local school district, then your State Department of Education. Your Governor has a website to request open records as well as the Attorney General. You can follow the chain to the Federal Government.
Carefully read the instructions. Become an expert in the laws of your State.
- ALL communication should be in WRITING! Make sure that the reply you receive is also in WRITING and that they reply with history to ensure that future FOIA requests will include all pertinent information.
- Ask for ALL documented communications – meeting minutes, emails, phone-to-phone communications, etc.
- Start with a narrow and specific date range request for the information you are requesting. Otherwise, you may be presented with a hefty bill or way more information than needed. You can always broaden your request later.
- Visit your school district’s website to find the FOIA/Open Records Request/Right to Know Contact.
- Use the phrase ‘provide for inspection…’ and insert your specific request. End it with ‘this is under the current FOIA laws of the State of [specify the name of your state].’
- Recruit additional people to join you on your FOIA request.
These laws empower parents with a tool to keep their school districts transparent and hold them accountable. If parents are not getting answers to their questions, they can request the applicable public records which are upheld by laws in every state. Sunshine laws promote transparency by requiring certain proceedings of government agencies to be open or available to the public. If you need extra help, reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.