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I love the public schools in my hometown of Rochester. I went to them myself, from kindergarten through twelfth grade, and my experience inspired me to become a teacher. My husband and I both graduated from the district, and we chose to live in Rochester largely for the schools. We want our kids, who are currently in elementary school, to have access to at least the same level of excellent education.

But now I’m suing the school district. It’s surreal. But it’s necessary.

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Parents and community members attend a Loudoun County School Board meeting, just 40 minutes from Fairfax.
(REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein)

What happened? Last August, I was casually browsing social media and stumbled upon a teacher’s post, which featured reference materials for a new “Ethnic and Gender Studies” class at the local high schools. The books immediately raised questions, but I didn’t want to jump to conclusions. So, I reached out to get more information. While my kids are years away from being able to take this class, I wanted to learn more about what’s coming their way.

The teacher instructed me to contact the district’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Director, who was in charge of training the teachers in charge of the class. I did so, but she evaded my questions. The Secondary Director of Education offered to share material with me, but all I received was a one-page course outline, a teacher training PowerPoint, and a lesson plan filled with “ice breakers” for the first two weeks of school. I also wrote to our school board and superintendent, but heard nothing back. And I repeatedly asked administrators for information that should have been readily available, such as course materials and student assignments. But after several weeks of trying to get answers, I received nothing of substance.

Eventually, the DEI director told me to send a Freedom of Information Act request. Since school districts are legally bound to provide public documents, I felt hopeful that I might finally get access to the information I sought. As it turns out, I was overly optimistic.

The district has devised new ways to stonewall my search for the truth. In response to my FOIA request, the district claimed that, other than the few documents I had already received, no other curriculum documents existed. That seems impossible, since based on my communications with the district, I had reason to believe there were already case studies, daily questions, readings, and Google classroom assignments. But the district refused to shed light on any of this.

What’s more, the FOIA requests alerted me to more transparency concerns. For example, I discovered that the district had removed the 6th and 7th grade Advanced Language Arts classes without following an approval process or allowing for public input. And when I tried to obtain teacher training materials, the district again attempted to block my efforts. While I paid more than $400 for the FOIA request, officials refused to provide copies of any copyrighted materials, despite the “fair use” exemption in the copyright law.

As the months went on, and after talking with others who were charged exorbitant fees for FOIA requests, I began to wonder: Why all the secrecy? Why all the efforts to keep parents in the dark?

Frustrated by the constant stonewalling, I reached out to the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, which is helping me sue the district for answers. I am asking Rochester Community Schools to provide me with copies of teacher lesson plans, curricula, reading materials, video materials, and assignments. To be clear, questioning a class does not mean I am opposed to it. I just want to confirm that these sensitive topics are being addressed in a fair and balanced way.

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Some of my friends and family have asked me, “Why do you keep pursuing this?” It’s a good question. If administrators had responded with straightforward answers, I wouldn’t have needed to go this far. But they didn’t. Nothing taught in our schools should be under the cover of secrecy. If there is any reason why secrecy is desired or needed, that alone is a red flag.

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For the sake of my kids, and for the sake of all other parents who send their kids to Rochester public schools, I need answers. We have a legal right to know what our children are taught in school. And the public schools that we pay for with our taxes have a legal duty to tell us.

 

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