$1,300 for a list of books? Goldwater fights school district’s outrageous demand

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It all started with a simple request from worried Fort Worth, TX mom Jenny Crossland: What books will my daughter be reading in school? She expected to receive a list of reading material in response. Instead, the Fort Worth Independent School District tell him they would deny her request unless she paid $1,267.50.

But this scandalous lack of transparency is not an aberration. Now the American Freedom Network (AFN) of the Goldwater Institute of pro bono lawyers is stepping in to hold Fort Worth’s ISD accountable for imposing prohibitive charges that keep parents in the dark.

Jenny, who was trying to figure out where to send her daughter when she starts kindergarten next year, filed a public records request for lists of books K-12 students should read and teachers can read. choose for their courses. This is simple information, the kind that needs to be shared with parents in a timely manner. But the district told Jenny it would take 84.5 hours of labor to put together the lists and demanded payment of $1,267.50.

Then earlier this month, another local mum, who recently had her 8e class girl out of the school district in part due to longstanding concerns about transparency, filed a request seeking similar information. And she got the same response: The district refused to hand over the list of books unless the parents paid more than $1,267.50.

The mother, who is also an AFN attorney at the Goldwater Institute, filed a lawsuit with the Texas Attorney General’s office last week challenging the district’s excessive fee claim.

Texas law requires that all fees for public documents be reasonable and that, for documents less than 50 pages, fees be limited to photocopying costs. In addition, state government agencies must follow the Attorney General’s cost rules when determining how much they will charge to produce public documents. These rules explicitly state that the district may charge for the cost of labor”[o]Only if (1) there are more than 50 pages of copies, or (2) the information is kept in two or more separate buildings or in remote storage. In this case, it is highly unlikely that a simple request for book listings would qualify for either of these exceptions.

Public affairs should be open to the public, especially when it comes to the important work of educating students. But laws governing requests for public records can be confusing, and citizens are often unaware of their rights. The Goldwater Institute’s new OpenMyGovernment.org guide gives parents the tools they need to file effective public records requests when the government is trying to keep secrets. And the American Freedom Network of pro bono attorneys stands ready to help parents in every state access the information to which they are entitled.

But parents shouldn’t even need to file public records requests just to find out what their children are being taught in taxpayer-funded schools. That’s why the Goldwater Institute is promoting its Academic Transparency Act in states across the country. This common-sense reform requires public schools to post learning materials online so parents with questions about their child’s required readings — or any other aspect of their curriculum — can easily access them in seconds.

Across the country, the Goldwater Institute will never stop working to shed light on what is happening in public school districts.

If you would like to contribute your legal skills and experience to the defense of freedom and would like to work on cases like this as part of the American Freedom Network at Goldwater’s Institute, please visit this page or contact Kamron Kompani at [email protected].

Kamron Kompani is Head of Legal Programs at the Goldwater Institute.

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