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FOIA requests

Posted by on Oct 29, 2018 in Blog, Legal issues, Quick Tips, Scholastic Journalism | 0 comments

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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When law and ethics and good journalism combine

Posted by on Nov 11, 2013 in Hazelwood, Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching, Uncategorized | 0 comments

PART 2 OF a 3-PART SERIES

An experienced Ohio newspaper adviser teams up with a former student — who now has a law degree — to teach the staff about using public records. An alleged rape on campus requires student editors to stand their ground accessing information about it. Once they have details about the incident, they have to decide just what they should – or maybe should not – use. It’s a tale that has all the makings of excellent reporting.

 The incident
An unexpected faculty meeting 10th period in mid-September. Police in the halls earlier in the day. All the students at Shaker Heights High School were talking, but the journalism students were more than curious.

“When I came back (to the journalism room) after the meeting, I told them I was forbidden to talk about it,” adviser Natalie Sekicky said. “Yes, there was an incident. Yes, something happened. But we have to be sensitive.”

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When law and ethics and good journalism combine

Posted by on Nov 7, 2013 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

PART 1 OF a 3-PART SERIES

An experienced Ohio newspaper adviser teams up with a former student — who now has a law degree — to teach the staff about using public records. An alleged rape on campus requires student editors to stand their ground accessing information about it. Once they have details about the incident, they have to decide just what they should – or maybe should not – use. It’s a tale that has all the makings of excellent reporting.

The backstory

Journalism teacher Natalie Sekicky admits she’s lucky. Anyone with a full teaching load and student media to advise can usually only dream about being able to put staffers in teams and work with them as they investigate complicated, in-depth stories.

But then Sekicky’s former editor-in-chief Emily Grannis, a college journalism major, started giving “quick lessons” about record requests to the J1 classes while she was home on breaks. When she entered a nearby law school, she said she was able to work “more formally” with the Shaker Heights students.

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Tweet15: Know how to use public records

Posted by on Jan 27, 2013 in Blog, Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

hazelwoodcolorYou have the right to information. Know how to use public records. #25HZLWD http://jeasprc.org/tweet15-know-how-to-use-public-records

Open records—in other words, the government information that is accessible to the public— vary by state.  Sometimes, finding exactly what is public in your state is simply a matter of knowing what state statute details this information.  Use the links below to find out which statute in your state gives more information:
http://www.splc.org/legalassistance/foiletter.asp
http://www.splc.org/knowyourrights/legalresearch.asp?id=15

Then, once you’ve identified a record you would like access to, make a verbal request first. If the record isn’t forthcoming, use the Student Press Law Center’s Freedom of Information letter generator to request your record:
http://www.splc.org/legalassistance/foiletter.asp

Sometimes, school officials will not release information because they claim it violates FERPA (the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act).  Use the link below to better understand what records are closed under FERPA, and what records you legally should have the right to access:
http://www.splc.org/pdf/ferpa_wp.pdf

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