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Opinion | Michigan parents have right to know what their children are taught in school

Parents — the primary educators of their children — have a basic and fundamental right to know what their children are being taught in school.

However, a series of concerning court rulings may now make it more difficult for parents to gain access to classroom information. 

Michael Webber & Mark Tisdel headshots
Michael Webber, R-Rochester Hills, represents Michigan’s 9th Senate district. Mark Tisdel, R-Rochester Hills, represents Michigan’s 55th House district.

In February, an appeals panel upheld an Oakland County judge’s ruling that found a union member public school teacher was not subject to the state’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and, therefore, is not obligated to provide curriculum material to parents for review.

Politics aside, these rules have troubling implications for government transparency and accountability. FOIA is the most effective tool for private residents and professional journalists to obtain critical information regarding the public workings of their government.

Frankly, as parents, we find this legal loophole alarming. And we know from the many concerned parents who we hear from that we are not alone. 

That is why we introduced  Senate Bill 154 and House Bill 4220 to clarify what and who is covered under FOIA. The Legislature has an obligation to act in order to protect public access to classroom information that reasonable residents already believe is covered under the current law. 

“I never imagined that this would get to the point of even having a lawsuit in the first place. It started because I just had some questions about this new class that popped up in the curriculum,” Rochester Community Schools parent and Board of Education Trustee Carol Beth Litkouhi has told reporters about her ongoing FOIA case against the district. 

After Litkouhi went through several FOIA filings with the district without success, the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation took up her cause, ultimately bringing her case before the courts.  

“Schools must make curricula available to parents under Michigan law,” Steve Delie, director of open government and transparency at the Mackinac Center, has said in previous reports on the issue. “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.”

We agree. It should not be this hard for parents to find out what is happening in their children’s schools. 

Michigan can do better. 

We feel strongly that legislators must support parents and provide them with greater awareness and accountability when it comes to their children’s education. No parent should be denied access to what is being taught inside the classroom. 

Additionally, the classroom curriculum in our public schools is a product of taxpayer investment, and the public has a right to know how all tax dollars are being spent. These court rulings would appear to carve out a special protection for a set of public employees in order to shield details on how they are carrying out their public duties.

While we are disappointed with the appeals panel decision, we were encouraged the judges agreed there is a legislative fix to this problem. The opinion from Judges Kirsten Frank Kelly, Kathleen Jansen and Noah P. Hood read, “Her efforts are more appropriately directed to the Legislature.”

By clarifying Michigan’s FOIA laws, we can better ensure that our state-run schools are spending public funds to educate students rather than on legal fees fighting against parents. 

The bottom line is that no parent should be denied access to what is being taught inside the classroom. Teachers and school administrators cannot be permitted to act in secret.

Unfortunately, SB 154 remains stuck in the Senate Committee on Civil Rights, Judiciary, and Public Safety and HB 4220 sits in the House Committee on Judiciary, both yet to be put up for votes in their respective chambers. 

We hope this most recent appeals court ruling will encourage our fellow lawmakers to take up these important bills to clarify FOIA on behalf of parents and their students. 

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan. Bridge does not endorse any individual guest commentary submission. If you are interested in submitting a guest commentary, please contact David Zeman. Click here for details and submission guidelines.

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