Michigan Mom Denied Quest for Educational Transparency - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Michigan Mom Denied Quest for Educational Transparency
by
Carol Beth Litkouhi on Fox & Friends, May 4, 2022 (Mackinac Center/YouTube)

Parents suspicious that public schools don’t want them to know what teachers are teaching their kids will have their fears confirmed by news coming out of Michigan earlier this month.

One parent in the Rochester School District, near Detroit, after seeing a teacher’s post on social media about a course entitled “The History of Ethnic and Gender Studies,” grew concerned that not all perspectives would be discussed in class. Carol Beth Litkouhi, mother of two children attending school in the district, filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request in December 2021 with the school district to obtain details about the course. She wanted to see assignments, lesson plans, and other materials used in teaching it.

After requesting of the district permission to view curriculum materials, she was permitted to see a unit plan and icebreaker assignment but not much else of the course material. After months of an unsatisfying volley of back-and-forths with authorities, Litkouhi, with the help of the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation, sued for access to the materials.

According to the complaint, Litkouhi, “despite repeated attempts, has been stymied in her attempts to lawfully obtain records relating to the District’s curriculum, training materials, and other related records. Having exhausted all reasonable attempts to obtain the records she seeks, this lawsuit follows.”

On Dec. 15, a ruling in her suit came down. Oakland County Circuit Court judge Jacob James Cunningham denied the request, agreeing with the school district that “its teachers are not members of the administration, but instead are employees and members of a bargaining unit represented by the Michigan Education Association, and therefore not members of a ‘public body’ as defined under FOIA.” Public school districts are subject to FOIA requests, he said, but public school teachers are not: “since the Court finds that public school teachers are not ‘public bodies,’ therefore their papers and work product are not ‘public records’ under FOIA.”

As the Wall Street Journal editorial board put it: “Huh?”

Bureaucratic obfuscation and harassment have prompted states to pass academic transparency laws.

Wrote Litkouhi, on her Facebook page, “Apparently, this judge doesn’t consider employees of a public school district part of the public body, and he doesn’t consider instructional material to be part of the performance of a school district’s official function (which should be educating kids, right?). Instructional materials are instead considered private? How strange!”

The shielding of classroom material has become prevalent in the last few years, and it manifests itself in a number of ways. Concerned parents are stonewalled or given the runaround by school districts — back and forth to administrators and various panels and tribunals — and they’re sometimes charged exorbitant fees to view the FOIA-requested documents. Litkouhi was charged $418 to view some documents, but, according to the Goldwater Institute, she got off easy.

The institute, a frontrunner in the quest for education reform, has catalogued a number of even more outrageous fees charged to access teaching materials. In May 2021, parents of children in a West Michigan school district were told to pay over $400,000 for the privilege of viewing documents that included words like “critical race theory,” “anti-racist,” “equity,” “diversity,” and “inclusion.” In September 2021, parents in Minnesota were informed it would cost them over $900,000 to access documents concerning critical race theory. And in Rhode Island, a woman was told to pony up $74,000 to see what her kindergarten-age girl would be taught in school — and was, in addition, sued by the National Education Association (NEA) for asking about it.

It is just this sort of bureaucratic obfuscation and harassment — and attempts to hide from parents what exactly is going on in their kids’ classrooms — that has prompted states to pass academic transparency laws. According to Christopher Rufo at the City Journal, as of February 2022, legislators in 19 states had taken up bills insisting on transparency in K-12 education. Such legislation would require school districts to make available to parents, online, the materials used in classroom instruction.

Not surprisingly, the pushback from the establishment educational quadrant has been severe. Once the NEA went all-in on critical race theory, there was little question efforts toward academic transparency would meet vigorous resistance from teachers unions, who have been aided by the erstwhile pro-transparency ACLU in suppressing parental rights. One ACLU lawyer said: “Some of these so-called ‘curriculum transparency bills’ are thinly veiled attempts at chilling teachers and students from learning and talking about race and gender in schools.” Under such pressure, some state legislatures have voted down such bills.

Litkouhi also expressed concerns about the larger repercussions of Cunningham’s ruling. She said, “What’s being taught in Rochester Schools is becoming less concerning to me than a judge concluding FOIA law in Michigan can cover public employers but not employees, in this instance school administrators but not teachers, and also that instructional materials used in classrooms are considered private.”

Some fear Cunningham’s ruling will make accessing government documents even more difficult in the future. Mackinac Center attorney Steve Delie told the Center Square: “Should the reasoning of this case be applied to its fullest extent, it’s questionable whether records created by local government or university employees would be subject to FOIA, even if they clearly relate to a public function. We will appeal this decision to ensure that parents, citizens, and journalist continue to have access to the records needed to hold government accountable and fully participate in the Democratic process.”

Notwithstanding Judge Cunningham’s Dec. 15 ruling, Carol Beth Litkouhi may finally get to see up close and personal what teachers in the Rochester, Michigan, school district are teaching their students.

In November’s election, she won a six-year seat on the Rochester Community School Board.

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