March 24, 2022

By Joe Setyon

If you’ve ever called a 1-800 number for customer service, you know the drill: Your call will be answered in the order it was received. You’re finally talking to a real person after 30 minutes of elevator music? Time for the classic: Can I put you on hold while I transfer your call? And so on and so forth, until your call has been redirected so many times that you forget why you were calling in the first place.

Across the country, public school districts are using a similar tactic to make it impossible for parents to obtain information about what their children are learning. As Michigan mom Carol Beth Litkouhi found out the hard way from the Rochester Community School District, many public education officials would rather subject parents to constant stonewalling and redirection than provide simple answers about what’s going on in the classroom.

Litkouhi’s story is just the latest example of a troubling nationwide trend that highlights the extreme lengths to which government bureaucrats will go to keep parents in the dark. And it underscores the pressing need for the Goldwater Institute’s academic transparency reform, which requires public schools to post a listing of their learning materials online.

After a teacher’s social media post about the books being used in a new “History of Ethnic and Gender Studies” course set off alarm bells in her head, Litkouhi asked the teacher for more information. She didn’t get it, but she was told to go to the district’s diversity, equity, and inclusion director and the superintendent. Ultimately, the district let her access a class unit plan and an ice breaker assignment, but not much else—and hardly anything about the actual course material, according to the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation, which is representing Litkouhi in her lawsuit against the district.

For months, the school district stonewalled Litkouhi, constantly redirecting her as she kept seeking answers. She filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request last December, but the district still wouldn’t let her access the course material.

It gets worse. Litkouhi appealed, only to be told that the district did not possess the course material documents she sought—six months after the class started. As the Mackinac Center noted, the district prohibits citizens from directly requesting records from its schools, and in this case, it refused to ask the school for the records in question. Essentially, it cut off all avenues by which Litkouhi could access public records about the ethnic and gender studies class, prompting her ongoing legal action. To this day, she’s still waiting for answers.

Litkouhi’s experience is far from an outlier. Just last month, a Wyoming mom testified about similar challenges she faced accessing information about newly adopted curricula in her school: “I went to the next teacher and asked, ‘What is my first-grader going to be learning this year?’, and she said, ‘Go talk to the principal.’ … I went to talk to the principal … and he couldn’t give me any information at all of what my daughter was going to be learning that year … and then he turned around and blamed us.”

When the runaround isn’t enough, school districts often charge parents outrageous fees to find out what their kids are learning.

Last May, Forest Hills Public Schools district in Kent County, Michigan, told parents it would cost a whopping $409,899.10 to access documents that included words like “Critical Race Theory,” “anti-racist,” “equity,” “diversity,” and “inclusion.” And last September, A Minnesota school district told a group of parents they’d have to pay up to the tune of more than $900,000 to access documents related to Critical Race Theory.

In perhaps the most egregious instance of the public education establishment attempting to shut down a parent, a Rhode Island school district tried to charge Nicole Solas $74,000 to see a kindergarten curriculum before she enrolled her daughter. Then, the National Education Association, the nation’s largest public sector teachers union, sued to block Solas’ access to the materials.

But there’s a solution. The best way to empower parents to have a say in their kids’ education is by shining a light on the lessons being taught in our classrooms. That’s why Goldwater is standing up for the rights of parents through its Academic Transparency Act. This common-sense reform, which has been introduced in more than twenty states, requires public schools to publish a list of instructional materials and activities used during the academic year on a publicly accessible portion of their website.

Parents are demanding this reform. Current and former teachers are taking a public stand in favor of it. The American public overwhelmingly supports academic transparency. As Goldwater’s Matt Beienburg, Director of the Van Sittert Center for Constitutional Advocacy and Director of Education Policy, told radio host Faune Riggin of KZIM in Missouri this week: “We’re finally seeing people stand up and say, ‘Look, we’re not just going to…bend over backwards to try and accommodate the woke left.’”

Lawmakers should pay attention—and act accordingly.

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