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I love the public schools in my hometown of Rochester. I went there myself, from kindergarten to grade 12, and my experience inspired me to become a teacher. My husband and I graduated from the district and we chose to live in Rochester largely for the schools. We want our children, who are currently in primary school, to have access to at least the same level of excellent education.
But now I’m suing the school district. It’s surreal. But it is necessary.
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What happened? Last August, I was casually browsing social media and came across a post from a teacher, who presented background materials for a new “Ethnic and Gender Studies” class at local high schools. The books immediately raised questions, but I didn’t want to jump to conclusions. So I reached out for more information. As my children are years away from being able to take this course, I wanted to know more about what awaits them.
The teacher asked me to contact the district’s director of diversity, equity and inclusion, who was responsible for training the teachers responsible for the class. I did, but she evaded my questions. The Director of Secondary Education offered to share materials with me, but all I received was a one-page lesson plan, a teacher training PowerPoint, and a lesson plan full of ” icebreaker” for the first two weeks of school. I also wrote to our school board and the superintendent, but got no response. And I repeatedly asked administrators for information that should have been readily available, such as course materials and student assignments. But after several weeks of trying to get answers, I haven’t received anything of substance.
Eventually, the director of DEI told me to send in a Freedom of Information Act request. Since school districts are legally required to provide public records, I was hopeful that I would finally have access to the information I was looking for. Turns out I was too optimistic.
The district came up with new ways to block my search for the truth. In response to my FOIA request, the district claimed that other than the few documents I had already received, no other program documents existed. This seems impossible, because based on my communications with the district, I had reason to believe that there were already case studies, daily questions, readings, and Google assignments in class. But the district has refused to shed any light on any of this.
Additionally, FOIA requests alerted me to more transparency issues. For example, I discovered that the district had scrapped advanced language arts classes in grades 6 and 7 without following an approval process or allowing public input. And when I tried to get teacher training materials, the district again tried to block my efforts. While I paid over $400 for the FOIA request, officials refused to provide copies of any copyrighted material, despite the “fair use” exemption in the Copyright Act. copyright.
Over the months, and after talking to others who have been charged exorbitant fees for FOIA requests, I began to wonder: why all the secrecy? Why all the effort to keep parents in the dark?
Frustrated with the constant blockages, I contacted the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, which is helping me sue the district for answers. I ask Rochester Community Schools to provide me with copies of lesson plans, syllabi, reading materials, video materials, and teacher assignments. To be clear, questioning a class does not mean that I oppose it. I just want to confirm that these sensitive topics are handled in a fair and balanced manner.
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Some of my friends and family asked me, “Why do you keep pursuing this?” It’s a good question. If the admins had responded with simple answers, I wouldn’t have needed to go that far. But they didn’t. Nothing that is taught in our schools should be under the guise of secrecy. If there is any reason why secrecy is desired or necessary, that alone is a red flag.
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For the sake of my children, and for the sake of all other parents who send their children to Rochester public schools, I need answers. We have the legal right to know what our children are learning in school. And the public schools we pay for with our taxes have a legal duty to tell us.