Thursday, October 14, 2021

'Ain't No Sunshine When Education's Gone' - The Show Me State's Troubling Response to Sunshine Requests

What is the purpose of Sunshine Requests? To let in a sanitizing sunlight on govt activities that seem shadowy to citizens who have concerns that they are possibly involved in improper or illegal behavior, right? Do you suppose that the legislation was proposed so as to help govt officials to feel more at ease in the exercise of their powers, or... instead to focus their attentions more closely upon their defined roles and responsibilities? Right. So it's strange then that we have govt officials that are involved in our school systems, who seem to be stymieing, obstructing, intimidating, and abusing, the citizens they serve, who dare to bring seek to a little sunshine into those govt activities which they have found cause to be concerned about.

This got my attention a few weeks ago when I was asked what I thought about Sunshine Requests being delayed beyond the period allowed by law, and then presenting people with a bill to be payed, before receiving the requested information - and I had no answer because I hadn't paid much attention to the few headlines I'd seen. I should have taken more notice of these stories, such as the first one involving a set of Sunshine Requests from Missouri's Show-Me Institute's request for:
"...A copy of any lesson plan or curriculum approved for the 2021-2022 school year that mentions critical race theory, 1619 Project, whiteness, antiracism, or systemic racism.
A copy of any public statement made by the school, including any email directed to parents, that mentions critical race theory, 1619 Project, whiteness, antiracism, or systemic racism. A copy of any public statement made by the school announcing that the school and/or its staff member has secured grant money or other financial support to teach or develop curriculum featuring critical race theory, the 1619 Project, whiteness studies, antiracism studies, or action civics...."
That may not be a small request, but it sounded like a very doable one to me, one which, back when I routinely had to produce detailed materials & costs reports on particular aspects of an international companies production and sales activities, down to petty cash expenses in offices ranging from Nome Alaska to Kuala Lumpur, would've been dealt with as a minor annoyance amidst an afternoon's worth of other tasks to attend to.

There are a few obvious issues with the replies they received, which you can browse through here.

First, the most common reply, is 'No, we're not teaching that', which was the response from my friendly neighborhood Francis Howell School District: (you might recall my recent 'interaction' with them), which gave a very grammatically telling reply from a school district, that:
"...Francis Howell School District does not have of these items requested."
Which, given what I'd mentioned of their 2020 riots 'Resolution' which itself contains references to both systemic racism and antiracism, as well as their 'black history' curriculum which is riddled with everything the request asked about, FHSD's response was not only grammatically incorrect (while painfully aware of my own grammatical shortcomings, their arrogance permits no such concern), but they flat-out lied in stating it. Replies like that can and should be publicly taken to task.

Second, is that their responses were for the most part received outside of the three days allowed for by law... or as with this gem of a trifecta from the St. Louis Public Schools 'oops.pdf', their reply is late, it lies about having any such evidence, and includes emails they're simultaneously sending out which contained evidence of their having lied in their reply,

And third, those who did respond, responded with some hefty bills that ranged from hundred$ to thousand$ of dollars. This one from Lee's Summit's charge of over $40,000+, as with other such responses, demanded payment before beginning to find the requested information. And we should give a special shoutout for those like the Grandview C-4 District, who replied with an itemized bill for making paper copies... while stating that the results will be delivered in the form of electronic pdf's which will be emailed. Um... [images of them stuffing paper into the PC's cooling vents] oh dear.

Maybe it's just me, but this all sounds like it has less to do with overburdened worker's grumpiness, than with fearful and obstinate govt officials attempting to stonewall the people asking them to comply with the law. Those govt school officials, however, on being questioned about their preventing the sun from shining, will point to a justification for their replies in the Attorney General's FAQ's for Sunshine Law requests shows:
How much can a public governmental body charge for records requests?
Section 610.026.1(1), RSMo, allows a public governmental body to charge up to 10 cents per page for standard paper copies, the average hourly rate of pay for clerical staff to duplicate documents, and the actual cost of the research time for fulfilling the request. This provision also requires that the public governmental body use the lowest salaried employees capable of searching, researching, and copying the records. Fees for accessing records on other media, or non-standard paper copies, shall reflect actual cost involved. The requestor may wish to ask for a breakdown of the costs associated with the request to determine how the public governmental body arrived at the final charge.
True enough, however it should be noted that what is left out of that FAQ, is the end of that paragraph of the statute which it summarizes, which states:
"...Documents may be furnished without charge or at a reduced charge when the public governmental body determines that waiver or reduction of the fee is in the public interest because it is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of the public governmental body and is not primarily in the commercial interest of the requester;"
IOW: In assessing these fees against concerned parents looking into the care of their children, these govt officials have determined that even though these concerned parents have no commercial interest in the request, they've decided that a clearer understanding of their actions concerning issues such as Critical Race Theory, transgenderism, pornography, etc., are not in the interests of public understanding,

So, sure, if a request was so extensive that finding the requested electronic files, paper files, memos, related to CRT, over a span of many years... a day or two, maybe even several, might be required to work through physical file cabinets. But no, that kind of time is not needed to work through electronic files - that's far more likely to be a matter of an intern writing a simple wildcard query, and running it - even if it must be run at several sites - the time involved is negligible. But these bureaucrats are wanting to claim a need for weeks, months, even years worth of time and effort?

Sorry, no, The only way that's credible is if they're scooping up the homeless off the streets and teaching them to code by having them write and run those queries for them. No, not buying that. At all.

Of course, if you push back like that, you're going to get a response such as
"Your request was poorly worded and could not be complied with."
Which brings us to those replies received for the Sunshine Requests that were requested by Missouri Prosper (MO Prosper is a group of parents who are working hard to help our students out, help them out if you can). Their request was written by Ashley Lawson, who has had experience handling Sunshine Requests while working in the Attorney General's office of Missouri, and the request which they filed with school districts across the state of Missouri, asked specific questions about the usage of a number of relevant keywords associated with programs such as Critical Race Theory:
Dear Sir or Madam,

This is a request for records under the Missouri Sunshine Law, Chapter 610, Revised Statutes of Missouri.

We request that you make available to us all records that have the attached terms (see attached document “MO Prosper list of terms”), including any abbreviation, nicknames, misspellings, or shortened version of those terms for the calendar years 2015-present. This includes records that relate to all documents in their original format and undoctored, electronic or tangible, including but not limited to: emails, memorandums, notes, pamphlets, videos, audio recordings, text messages, social media posts, and any third party messaging application on phone or computer, from all district school board members, administrators, custodian of records, persons employed through the school counseling, psychology, psychiatry office, hired consultants, hired contractors, and any person that has assisted in the development of curriculum and lesson plans for schools within the recipient school district mentioned above.

We request that all fees for locating and copying the records be waived. The information obtained through this request is in the interest of the public. It is information that has not been made readily transparent between the school district and its community.

If portions of the requested records are closed as a result of a personnel matter, please segregate the closed portions and provide me with the rest of the records.
And yet, typical of the responses which they received, were complaints about ".. the scope of your request..." and "...voluminous amount of potentially responsive records..." and that "...the District will need 644 business days..." for their records to be "...searched at a rate of 2,000 records per hour to locate responsive records....".

Again, sorry, no. The only way that their max search rate is 2,000 records per hour, is if they're using a Win 95 PC with 8mb of ram - it's no great feat for relatively modern systems to search through tens of millions of records, within a minute. What it looks like they are doing instead, is dodging, weaving, obfuscating, and flat out lying, in order to avoid having the sunshine streaming in unexpectedly on matters which they'd prefer to remain in darkness.

Even more than the time and $upposed costs involved, do these responses seem more than a tad similar in their responses to you? I've looked through well over fifty of these responses to the Missouri Prosper requests, and they read like they were formed from the same, rather hostile, template.

See what you think, here's one from the 'Reorganized School District No. 1 of Moniteau County, California, MO 65018,
"... the search time for your request is estimated at approximately 1,287.50 hours of Professional email research at the hourly rate of $35.57, 200 hours of clerical time to make copies and do curriculum/lesson plans research at an hourly rate of $14.28, and approximately 10,000 copies at a rate of 10 cents per page, for a total of $49,652.38....
...the District will need 644 business days to complete this request."
, and from the "Harrisonville Cass R-IX School District":
"...In regards to your request for the District’s responsive records, the search time for your request is estimated at approximately 6 hours of professional staff time at the hourly rate of $35.20, 1,000 hours of clerical time to review the documents and make copies at an average hourly rate of $20.22, and approximately 120,000 copies at a rate of 10 cents per page, for a total of $32,431.20. Due to the scope of your request, the District is unable to waive the cost of locating and copying the records requested, as the amount of material from your request for records is potentially substantial and requires extensive work on the part of the District. Once I am in receipt of your payment of $32,431.20, we will begin to compile these records for you...
...the District will need 500 business days to complete this request..."
Which is nothing in comparison to the response received from the "HAYTI R-11 SCHOOL DISTRICT" of Hayti, MO 63851, whose server farm's vastness must surely be the envy of Silicon Valley, in order to justify their needing:
- 8900 hours of staff time at an hourly rate of $12.47 to search for responsive records
- 4450 hours of staff time at an hourly rate of $12.47 to make copies of responsive records
- 300,000 pages of copies at a rate of 10 cents per page
The total estimated fees for your records request is $196,474.50 and the District will begin fulfillment of your records request upon my receipt of your payment in full.
...The District estimates that the total time to fulfill your records request is 4 years or 1,460 days..."
which are typical, and I mean very typical of the replies received from school districts across the Show Me State, to Sunshine Law requests for public records containing those terms common to Critical Race Theory.

Something else, leaving aside the fact that they say they'll need up to four years to complete this arduous task, does it strike you as being odd that they can give a total, which includes copies, even saying that they'll need 300,000 pages before they've run the search that they are submitting the bill for? How do they know it will take, as one says, '1,287.50 hours of 'Professional email research', to find out whether or not they have any of these materials? This is a bill they are submitting, they mention estimates, but they are submitting a bill and demanding payment up front - how do they know that they'll need that many pages? Or any pages at all, if they haven't already searched for them?!

Or... did they... maybe... perhaps... already have an intern take an afternoon to run some or all of the query, and then on seeing the material that they'd have to deliver, they then concocted an intimidatingly hefty bill in order to avoid delivering the incriminating goods?

Right? Before we move on, in case you thought that those estimates were ridiculous, there were at least two others that deserve special mentions, for a moment of comedic and insultaining relief. The first of these comes from the 'Hickman Mills C-1 School District', who had their Clayton, MO Attorney's reply, again using the grammar that I've come to expect from such as these:
"...The estimated cost for compiling the documents you requested it $289,371.00. If the estimate is ends up not being sufficient to cover the costs associated with responding to this request, you will be charged the additional amount prior to receiving the records..."
Not to be outdone, lil' ol Lee's Summit R-7 gives a repeat performance and takes the win, with this 'estimate':
"...this task would take 215.3 years. The records would be available no later than December 1, 2236....The updated total for this request is $4,409,577.32..."
, and their reply was sent, not on letterhead, but by email, complete with a signature logo signifying their valuing of "~Achiever~Restorative~Individualization~Empathy~Connectedness~", followed by a footer quote that is at least as sincere as their 'estimate': "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." - Maya Angelou", all of which conveys a level of disrespect from those in 'public service' that will not soon be forgotten.

Continuing on with what some of the less ridiculous responses had to say in denying their involvement with CRT or the like, it's interesting, as Ashley Lawson noted something about the phrasing of the denials being voiced by these govt school officials, such as FHSD:
It’s interesting that schools say, “we’re not teaching it”.
What's interesting about that, is that it's phrasing is very similar to DESE's recent *effort* to find out if schools were teaching CRT, by sending out a 'survey' whose questions were neatly worded to enable an easy denial, to which it was no surprise to see that 420 out of 425 school districts responded:
"Nope, no CRT here!"
I encourage you to read Dr. Mary Byrne's open letter in reply to DESE's 'survey', which points how and why:
”...The design of the two survey questions, whether intentionally or unintentionally, will mislead legislators to the conclusion that CRT is not used …”
, when as with Question 1,
...It asks whether the “board approved” curriculum “includes lessons ABOUT critical race theory.” One does not have to teach ABOUT Critical Race Theory in K-12 classrooms to inform decisions about content selection and activities that teach the principles of critical race theory through the lens of a race-first worldview …”
The same applies to 'teaching it' - CRT, trash though it is, is a college level course, and 'it' would never be taught in elementary and secondary schools, but its ideas can, and indeed are, being taught throughout our school systems today, and that is what they are working so hard to evade. If you read my previous post on educators practice of Semantic Deception, this would be an example of that.

Lawson went on to note that:
"...DESE acknowledged it was a flawed survey and schools acknowledged they don’t want to get caught up in this nat’l discussion. The requests show:
1) it exists in the school (responses that say how many hits they’ve gotten on a prelim search, amount of time and resources estimated) and
2) schools don’t want to be transparent and work with families bc we meet the criteria for no charge and
3) they are charging thousands of dollars, aren’t sharing lesson plans and course content with families, etc
We want to be clear this is not a political motive on our part.

Families are seeing that vocabulary show up in all classes, from music to math. That is what they are trying to navigate through. We are supporting families accordingly. This is our effort to bring more transparency between schools and families. One issue facing families in public education isn’t more important than the other…but bringing transparency to public education reigns supreme..."
The treatment of such requests being made to fulfill the legislative mandate for transparency, are unseemly, seemingly corrupt, and should be quite disturbing to anyone living under the power of these governments.

If someone were to make a Herculean effort to give them the benefit of the doubt by imagining how there could be some truth behind these response from the govt functionaries in our school systems, it occurred to me that perhaps there's a bit of a Goldilocks issue involved in the requests, you know - too hot, too cold - around the two sets of requests from the Show Me Institute and MO Prosper being perhaps too specific, or too general? If that were the case, then you'd expect that a request which landed in the middle, would be found to be "just Right!", with all fees waived, and the asked for results given over promptly without complaint, right?

But no, sorry, that's a big nope as well, as other parents organizations in Missouri, such as "No Left Turn in Education - Missouri" (their 'Statewide Report of CRT and its Concepts' is comprehensive), recently made a request in their request for 'transgender' related materials in the Houston R-I School District libraries, curriculum, or lesson plans, and was stonewalled as well to the tune of $10,383.24.

Even a single concerned parent's request, associated with a local St. Charles County group of parents (help them out at 'SCC Parent Association'), for a single pornographic book, "Gender Queer", in the libraries of a single Wentzville School District, was met with several days delay and a $50 bill to be paid prior to receiving their 'information' - meaning once again - they already have the information, but they do not feel it would contribute significantly to public's understanding of their operations, or they would prefer that the little people not find that information out. The Sunshine Request Law makes allowances for billing charges for requests that involve excessive time and effort to meet, and there is no possible way that that request can be viewed as being or involving an excessive amount of effort to meet.

If any doubts somehow remain about whether or not there is something very wrong here in the Show Me state, they should evaporate with the news of a MO State Representative from Springfield, whose Sunshine Request for CRT related materials was recently met with a bill for $190,000!:
"SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – After Springfield Public Schools (SPS) teachers were given a “teaching guide” using Critical Race Theory concepts, State Rep. Craig Fishel sent a Sunshine Request to the district seeking all documents mentioning any of 24 terms often associated with CRT. Those terms included white privilege, white fragility and systemic racism, among others.
However, the school district’s response – including an invoice totaling over $190,000 for the cost of retrieving the documents – brings up major “integrity and transparency” issues, according to Fishel..."
Something is very wrong here in Missouri, and across the nation, those in the shadows most definitely do not want any fool parent letting the sun shine in on their activities. As RedState's Sister Toldjah noted:
"Because opponents of Critical Race Theory have seen some successes at the local level in their battle to prevent the racial brainwashing of impressionable young children in public schools, the mainstream media has officially declared war on their grassroots efforts by portraying them as mindless (and racist) Astroturf props who are being fed lies about CRT from well-funded conservative groups and “propagandists” like Tucker Carlson and other prominent conservative movers and shakers.

...Get the message? We better start putting limits on FOIA requests to keep those pesky conservatives from getting their hands on information that might help them be better able to raise awareness about issues important to local parents and students and other educators. "
What's becoming apparent, is that parents daring to ask for the truth about what their children are being exposed to on behalf of their governments, whether by speaking out at their local School Board meetings, or filing Sunshine Requests at their district and state levels on FOIA's at the national level, are being met by the same anti-sunshine actions of those in government who are too deeply involved in our 'educational system'.

It's even reached the point where the National School Boards Association has smeared concerned parents in a letter to Joe Biden,
"... which represents 90,000 school officials, including the ones who’ve been caught blacklisting and doxing dissenting parents, is facing backlash for asking President Joe Biden to label upset parents “domestic terrorists” and deploy federal authorities to rein them in."
, a request which was received favorably, and despite (or perhaps because of) Atty Gen Garland's undisclosed personal interests in the matter, he committed the Biden Administration not only to smearing concerned parents as 'domestic terrorists', but to threatening to sick the FBI on them for daring to object to school policies which they believe are harmful to their children.

Bottom line for the Show Me state of Missouri, a legislative measure designed to enable concerned citizens to bring a little sunshine to possible improper behavior on the part of govt, is being flipped by those in power, into being a means to stonewall, intimidate, and even threaten them for attempting to avail themselves of the laws of their state.

Are you listening Gov Parson? Are you listening Missouri? If so, Show Me. Show your legislators. And show some support for organizations such as Missouri Prosper, No Left Turn in Education, SCC Parent Association, who've come together to put some much of their own time and effort in hopes of benefitting our children and our society.

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