Though diagnosed with an intellectual disability, Mitchell Smith passed mainstream classes in K-12, earned a high school diploma and planned to enroll at a local college with special-ed support guaranteed by Michigan law till the age of 26.
When Goodrich Area Schools denied his request and recommended a segregated program for disabled adults, his mother, Sherry Smith, filed a Freedom of Information Act request for all e-mails related to Mitchell. The school system claimed it would cost $77,718.75 and require 2 1/4 years of full-time clerical labor to provide the records, reports Reason‘s Hit & Run.
The college “would continue special services, life skills, employment skills, all the services that he needed and that he was receiving throughout his entire K–12 school career,” says Sherry Smith, “and it includes the academic component, which Mitchell strongly desires.”
Superintendent Michelle Imbrunone wrote:
Goodrich Area Schools believes the total cost to fulfill this FOIA will be $77,718.75…It will be necessary to hire someone to assist us with sorting through the email content you have requested. The current estimate is that it may require up to 4,687.5 hours at the current clerical hourly employee rate of $16.58 per hour.
On July 1, Michigan’s amended FOIA law went into effect allowing requesters to sue if they believe they’re being overcharged. The court must assign punitive damages if it finds a public body has “arbitrarily and capriciously charged an unreasonable fee,” reports the Detroit Free Press.
The Smiths hired an attorney who refiled the FOIA request on July 1 and added a Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) request. It took four weeks for the district to turn over hundreds of pages of emails. There was no charge.