Rochester parent sues school district for thwarting FOIA requests

(The Center Square) – Rochester Community School District in Michigan has received an “incomplete” grade for its response to a Freedom of Information Act request from a parent seeking…

(The Center Square) – Rochester Community School District in Michigan has received an “incomplete” grade for its response to a Freedom of Information Act request from a parent seeking curriculum materials pertaining to a course titled “History of Ethnic and Gender Studies.”

The Mackinac Center Legal Foundation announced Tuesday they were suing the school district for withholding curriculum materials from two FOIA requests made by Carol Beth Litkouhi, the mother of two Rochester district schoolchildren.

Litkouhi became alarmed when she read a teacher’s social media post, which highlighted reading materials selected for the district’s new ethnic and gender studies class. Seeking assurances the class would present various perspectives on class topics, she asked for clarification. The teacher deferred to the school’s diversity, equity, and inclusion director as well as the superintendent. Litkouhi’s request yielded little more than a unit plan and an initial assignment but did not include any other course materials.

Litkouhi filed another FOIA request in December 2021. The district refused to comply, saying Rochester did not possess the gender and ethnic course materials – despite the fact the class already had been taught for six months at the time.

“Schools must make curricula available to parents under Michigan law,” said Steve Delie, director of open government and transparency at the Mackinac Center. “Despite this, Rochester schools has repeatedly failed to fulfill this legal obligation. It shouldn’t take months of back and forth, hundreds of dollars and a lawsuit just to see what is being taught in your community.”

The MCLF complaint notes: “In light of Plaintiff’s partial denial of Plaintiff’s December 14th request (the ‘History Request’) and the refusal to produce copies of records in response to Plaintiff’s December 27th request (the ‘Training Materials Request’), Plaintiff brings this action against the District. Neither the District’s refusal to release curriculum materials, nor its refusal to produce copies of allegedly copyrighted materials comport with Michigan law.”

District policy does not allow parents to directly request school records, even though the district itself refused to obtain the school records requested under Litkouhi’s FOIA. These policies, MCLF attorneys assert, render FOIA requests “essential unattainable.”

“Parents have a right to know what is being taught to our children,” said Carol Beth Litkouhi. “It is incredibly disappointing that the district continues to refuse to be transparent and has stonewalled my efforts to learn more about what is being taught in the classroom. Michigan parents deserve better.”

Another FOIA was filed by Litkouhi on Dec. 25, 2021, in which she sought teacher training materials for the district’s diversity, equity, and inclusion training from 2020 to 2022. She paid a $418 deposit for access to the materials, which she was told she could examine the documents on district grounds. After she paid the deposit, the district reneged on its promise to provide the materials Likouhi requested.