The Goldwater Institute and its American Freedom Network (AFN) of pro bono attorneys is defending the rights of parents to know what’s happening in their school districts
With her 13-year-old son facing relentless verbal and physical bullying at his public middle school, a concerned Texas mom wants to know how widespread the bullying problem is in the school district. But district officials won’t say unless she pays more than $7,000 in public records fees, so the Goldwater Institute is stepping in to get answers.
For two years, Terrie Chumchal’s son has endured bullying from other students, much of it on account of his Korean American heritage. One horrifying assault even left the now-eighth grader with a ruptured eardrum. Making matters worse, the Joshua Independent School District refuses to provide parents with straight answers about what is happening in its schools, stonewalling Terrie and other district parents whose children experienced severe acts of bullying.
Seeking to uncover the extent of the issues within the district, Terrie submitted a public records request last month for the number of bullying, incident, assault, police, and grievance reports filed with the district between 2015 and 2022. In response, the district’s lawyers told Terrie that accessing this simple information would cost $7,111.12 in public records fees.
“My son has been the victim of bullying and assaults for over two years. When I have asked questions about these incidents, I receive inconsistent responses from different district administrators. Other families have publicly voiced the same concerns, so this is why I requested this information,” Terrie says. “We deserve to have insight as to how significant these issues are within our district. Don’t I have the right to know what’s going on in my own child’s public school?”
Now, the Goldwater Institute and its American Freedom Network (AFN) of pro bono attorneys is defending Terrie’s right to know what is happening in her son’s public school district. Last week, attorney Warren Norred, who is volunteering his services with Goldwater’s American Freedom Network, filed an appeal with the Texas Attorney General’s Office challenging the district’s excessive fee demand.
“Parents shouldn’t have to pay thousands of dollars just to access simple information about what’s happening in their children’s schools,” Warren says. “Texas law is clear on the matter—and I intend to fight this excessive public records fee and defend Terrie’s right to access public information.”
Notably, Terrie had only requested the number of reports—information she is entitled to under Texas’s public records law—and not the content in them. This is information that a school district should easily be able to obtain and provide to parents without concern of sharing private or sensitive information. But this case isn’t an outlier—as school districts around the country charge outrageous public records fees to scare parents away from asking about what’s happening in their children’s schools. Just this past summer, Goldwater fought back after the nearby Fort Worth Independent School District charged concerned parents $1,300 to see a list of books their children were reading in school.
Whether it’s matters of school safety or questions about their children’s curriculum, public school districts should never keep parents in the dark. But the laws governing public records requests can be confusing, and citizens are often unaware of their rights. The Goldwater Institute’s OpenMyGovernment.org guide gives parents the tools they need to file effective public records requests when the government tries to keep secrets. And the American Freedom Network of pro bono attorneys stands ready to help parents in every state access the information they’re entitled to.
If you are interested in putting your legal skills and experience to practice in defense of liberty and would like to work on cases like this one as part of the Goldwater’s Institute’s American Freedom Network, please visit this page or contact Kamron Kompani at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published by Goldwater Institute. Republished with permission.
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