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Don’t stand for being denied information


by Jeff Kocur


Don’t stand for being denied information


Students and the public have a right to view many records kept by schools, municipalities, states and federal government. Students should review how to submit a public records request and understand the legal aspects of doing so.The Student Press Law Center also hosts an open records letter generator to make it easy to do. Most often, the Freedom of Information Act request will come at a time when you might be crunched for time. Use this lesson to become more familiar with your rights under the Freedom of Information Act.


  • Students will become familiar with the Freedom of Information Act.
  • Students will identify the types of data which would be available under the Freedom of Information Act
  • Students will consider 10 different possible scenarios for a Freedom of Information Act request in their school.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.9 Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.11-12.1.B Work with peers to promote civil, democratic discussions and decision-making, set clear goals and deadlines, and establish individual roles as needed.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.11-12.2 Integrate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) in order to make informed decisions and solve problems, evaluating the credibility and accuracy of each source and noting any discrepancies among the data.

Day One:


50 minutes

Materials / resources

Link to federal website with short video explanations

Data Quality Campaign chart on how student data can get used:  

Teacher background resources:

Lesson step-by-step

Step 1 — Introduction (5 minutes)

Begin this lesson with the quick presentation on the Freedom of Information Act.

Step 2 — Partner work (20 minutes)

Assign student partners and ask them to each to generate two different pieces of information a school, a city, and a state might not readily release (two each). Share out the results on the board and ask students to share any similarities they see.

Step 3 — Small group work (20 minutes)

Partner with another group to form groups of four, and give them six post-it notes. Each group is to come up with six different scenarios at the school, city, or state where they might want to, or need to, request information from the government.

Have each group place one of their ideas on a posterboard on the wall. If an idea has already been used, have the group find a new idea until they have contributed at least four ideas and shared

Step 4 — Assessment (5 minutes)

On an exit card, have the students identify the following information: (formative assessment #1)

Identify two specific scenarios (show the DQC graphic) in which student information would be protected.

Extension Activity:

Ask students to read or listen to the following article and discuss the intersection of personal privacy versus the public’s right to know.

Day 2:


50 minutes

Materials / resources

Link to federal Website with explanations

Freedom of Information Worksheet (attached)

New York Times Article on their use of FOIA

SPLC Open Records Request Generator

Lesson step-by-step

Step 1 — Link to previous lesson (5 minute)

Remind the students of the uses of the Freedom of Information Act they brainstormed yesterday, and invite them to suggest any other ideas they hadn’t mentioned yesterday.

Step 2 — Introduction (7 minutes)

Introduce today’s activity by showing them these requests are made by major media organizations with deep pockets, and have them read this article out loud in a jump-in format.

Step 3 — Assessment (38 minutes)

Ask students to complete the attached worksheet and scavenger hunt (formative assessment #2).

Extension (Homework):

Partner students and assign them one of the scenarios the students brainstormed on day one and have them create an Open Records Request through the SPLC letter generator.

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