July 1, 2021
By Jon Riches
Nationwide, parents are increasingly alarmed about what their children are being taught in their schools, including controversial lessons about race, gender, and the very founding of our country. Yet across the country, it’s far more difficult than it should be for parents to find out what, exactly, is being taught in the classroom. Today, the Goldwater Institute is taking action on behalf of one conscientious parent who just wants to know what her daughter is learning.
When Nicole Solas’ daughter was starting kindergarten, she sought information from Rhode Island’s South Kingstown School Department about what was going to be taught in her daughter’s classroom. Nicole was especially concerned that some controversial materials, including some on racially charged topics and gender theory, would be presented to her young child.
She submitted an official request under her state’s public records law, which was created in order to make public information available to the public so citizens can know what their government is up to.
Yet despite her repeated requests, Nicole could get no answers from the Department. Several of her requests were denied outright. In other instances, the Department sought to charge Nicole onerous fees. And although the Department itself had instructed Nicole to submit formal records requests—rather than simply answering the questions of a concerned parent—the Department threatened to sue her to prevent her from accessing public information.
That is not the way the law should work. The purpose of public records laws are to open government operations to the public, and the presumption is that all public information will be disclosed. Citizens should never be threatened or punished for seeking public information in good faith.
After nearly three months of delay and gamesmanship, the Department has still not provided Nicole much of the information she is seeking regarding classroom instruction. So the Goldwater Institute is stepping in. On Nicole’s behalf, we have submitted a new public records request to ensure that she can access the information she is entitled to about how her daughter is educated. The Institute will hold the Department accountable if it seeks to evade the law or shield information from disclosure.
Sadly, this is not the first time school officials have tried to penalize parents for requesting information they’re entitled to. Goldwater Institute attorneys previously defended parents who were also sued by a school district in Arizona that did not want to turn over public information about their children’s education. (The Institute prevailed in both the trial court and the court of appeals, where the district’s baseless action against the parents was dismissed.)
Our children’s education should not be a government secret. And school officials should never abuse the law to intimidate parents or keep them in the dark. Nicole and other parents like her have a legal and moral right to know what their children will be taught this fall—and it should not take a lawyer to get that information.
Jon Riches is the Director of National Litigation at the Goldwater Institute.