Jan 20, 2023 - News

FOIA Friday: Court ruling shields public school records

Illustration of the acronym FOIA with an eye that's looking around and blinking standing in for the O.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Michigan's public records law — already a transparency nightmare — could become even more narrow if a recent court decision stands.

Why it matters: The state's Freedom of Information Act is chock full of exemptions that shield several types of government records, like those kept by the governor's office and information submitted by cannabis businesses.

  • A recent Oakland County Circuit Court ruling threatens to keep from public view another type of record — those kept by public school teachers.

Catch up fast: Judge Jacob James Cunningham dismissed a FOIA lawsuit in December that sought teacher lesson plans, assignments and other records related to a class at Rochester High School, History of Ethnic and Gender Studies.

What they're saying: Cunningham's ruling made a distinction between records kept by a public body and its employees.

  • "Since the court finds public school district teachers are not 'public bodies,' therefore their papers and work product are not 'public records' under FOIA," the judge wrote.

The other side: Records generated and kept by public employees doing their job should be public, Stephen Delie, a Mackinac Center Legal Foundation lawyer for the plaintiff, tells Axios.

  • Delie fears the ruling could be used to shield records of police officers and other public workers.

What's next: Cunningham's ruling has been appealed to the Michigan Court of Appeals.


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