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FOIA requests

Data your school district keeps for its own information or to report out to the state or federal government is an important resource for journalists.

It can reveal patterns and statistics that belie the school’s reputation for better or for worse. It can help reveal positive or alarming trends in student discipline, achievement, attendance or safety.

Students often don’t think about accessing this information, but it can help frame the most telling and informative stories at your school.

Make it part of story brainstorming or beat assignments to regularly have students generating ideas for data they would like to find. For example, after a dog search, how many students were cited? How many times did they confiscate a weapon on campus last year? How many students failed a class last term? What was the breakdown of failures by race or gender? How many suspensions have there been for fighting or drugs this year compared to last year? What are the statistics at neighboring schools?

Students should first request the data they seek in a timely manner, but if the district will not release it, use the SPLC Open Records Generator to file a formal Freedom of Information Act request. The website has a template usable to create a formal legal document requesting the records..

Keep in mind, the district is legally bound to keep some information private. It cannot share the specific names of kids who failed or were punished, & etc.

The use of public  records can bring context,depth to key stories

Guideline

According to the Freedom of Information Act, students can request information and records relevant to stories at their school. If records are not provided, students should submit an open records request through the SPLC letter generator.

Social media post/question:

FOIA: introduce students to the Freedom of Information act and state open records laws.

Stance:

As per the Freedom of Information Act, students can request information and records relevant to stories at their school. If records are not provided, students should submit an open records request through the SPLC letter generator.

Reasoning/suggestions:

The Freedom of Information Act is a tool students can use to report on schools and for any public document. Use this to make them more familiar with it.

Government agencies keep data on many topics, and often students can legally access it. Some information must legally be reported and shared in searchable and easily accessible forms. Governments keep other records, which they are only required to release upon request.

The Freedom of Information Act and accompanying state open records laws are important tools for reporters to be familiar with. If information citizens are legally allowed to see is not made available upon request, these tools are the first step in formalizing the request process and informing others of how  to use the law.

Resources:

U.S. Department of State Freedom of Information Act website, U.S. Department of Justice

State-by-State guide to Open Records Laws, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

Public Records Letter Generator, SPLC

 

 

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