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Mackinac Center will appeal teacher records FOIA ruling

Library books.
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Books in a library.

The Mackinac Center Legal Foundation will appeal a judge’s ruling that teacher lesson plans, homework assignments and classroom materials are exempt from Freedom of Information Act requests. The decision from an Oakland County court said school district employees don’t fall under the open records law.

The Mackinac Legal Foundation challenge will say Oakland County Circuit Judge Jacob Cunningham misapplied Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in a December 15 decision. Cunningham rejected a Rochester Community School District parent’s request for materials used in an ethnic and gender studies course.

Cunningham held the open records law applies to “public bodies” and that doesn’t include teachers and other school personnel:

Because the Legislature specifically did not indicate individual employees of school districts are within the meaning of “public bodies,” the Court is left with a conviction that the Legislature did not intend for a public school district’s employees to be included in the definition of “public bodies” relative to FOIA.

Steve Delie is the Mackinac Center’s director of transparency and open government. He said the judge and the school district got it wrong because there’s nothing in the law that exempts teachers and other school employees.

“Yes, the teachers created these records, but they’re district employees, and for the district to be able to say we don’t have to ask for those records from our employees — we think that’s a fundamental misunderstanding of FOIA,” Delie said.

Delie said a challenge will be filed soon with the Michigan Court of Appeals.

The Rochester Community School District released a statement, but did not address the issues in the lawsuit:

"The Rochester Community School District values and appreciates our highly skilled teachers, administrators and support staff who provide a quality education in a caring atmosphere for all students to attain the necessary skills and knowledge to become lifelong learners and contribute to a diverse, interdependent and changing world. Rochester Community Schools continues to focus on the education, growth, safety, and wellness of our students, staff and school community."

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.