December 1, 2021

By Joe Setyon

Public records ought to be just that—public. Unfortunately, a case out of Minnesota shows the extreme lengths government bureaucrats will go to just to keep concerned parents from exercising their right to find out what their children are learning in taxpayer-funded schools.

In September, a law firm acting on behalf of Equality in Education—an organization made up of concerned Rochester parents and other residents—filed a Minnesota Government Data Practices Act request with the Rochester Public Schools district seeking documents related to “equity and social justice topics often referred to as Critical Race Theory (‘CRT’).”

Nearly two months later, the school district replied, saying it could provide the requested public records—if the parents were willing to pay up to the tune of more than $900,000.

“The District has completed an extensive analysis of your 41-page, 332-paragraph data practices request. The District estimates that it will take 13,478 hours to search for, retrieve, and make copies of the data. Using the employee with the lowest wage rate who would have the right to search for and retrieve the data that have been requested, and applying the actual cost of making copies, the District estimates that the actual cost of searching for, retrieving, and making copies is $901,121.15,” the response read. According to the Daily Caller, school district legal representative Michael Waldspurger added that “The district will require prepayment before processing your request further.”

Of course, charging parents more than $900,000 to view public records defeats the entire purpose of the documents being “public” in the first place. If the government really wanted records to be public, it wouldn’t implement artificial barriers preventing the public from seeing them.

This case is not an outlier. It brings to mind the saga of Rhode Island mom Nicole Solas, who, concerned that her kindergarten-age daughter’s mind would be filled with the politically charged rhetoric of CRT and gender theory, wanted to stay informed about what would be taught in the classroom. Solas emailed the school principal and asked to see the curriculum, but to no avail.

Then, Goldwater stepped in and made an additional public records request on her behalf, and when the school district responded, it said it would cost $74,000 to provide the simple information she sought. The National Education Association, the nation’s largest public sector teachers union, even sued Solas for asking too many questions.

So why do education bureaucrats make it so difficult for parents to find out what their children are learning? The education establishment is often indoctrinating children with destructive ideologies like CRT that teach lies about the very ideals America was founded on and that encourage kids to judge each other on the color of their skin rather than the content of their character. Pundits, policymakers, and public school officials can insist all they like that CRT isn’t part of school curricula, but the fact that Rochester Public Schools says it needs more than 13,000 hours to produce documents on CRT and related topics tells a different story.

Parents deserve better. They deserve the truth about what their children are learning, and they deserve for that truth to be easily accessible.

That’s why the Goldwater Institute is advocating for the Academic Transparency Act, which would require public schools to post a listing of their learning materials online. In the Rochester Public Schools case, much of the information the parents were seeking would have already been posted online if the Academic Transparency Act were law, meaning they wouldn’t have even needed to file a public records request to obtain it.

Bureaucrats are fighting tooth and nail to prevent parents from making informed choices about their children’s education, but there’s a simple solution—transparency.

To learn more about Goldwater’s efforts to promote academic transparency, you can click here.

Joe Setyon is a Digital Communications Associate at the Goldwater Institute.

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