Times are changing and apparently getting more expensive.
Sherry Smith and her husband Kevin suffer from a serious case of sticker shock after contacting their son’s school for emails. Little did the Smiths know, the fee to perform the search would set them back $77,718.75.
“They know full well we won’t pay that,” said Sherry. “What are we supposed to do? Remortgage our house?”
Smith filed a Freedom of Information Act request in May to obtain correspondence regarding her son. It was her hope to receive emails between April 2014 and present day based on a search using her son’s name and initials. Her request was also “not limited to emails between Goodrich Area Schools employees, Genesee Intermediate School District employees, Michigan Department of Education employees, etc.”
District superintendent Michelle Imbrunone stands by the price, as she claims a contracted employee would need to be hired to perform such a huge search. In her response to Sherry, Imbrunone indicates the $77,718 fee is “based on a check of the volume of message traffic and scan of activity from the logs of information available (including all deleted emails) over the past 14 months that could be relevant to your request.”
“I’m not even adding charges,” reveals Imbrunone.
In case you’re wondering, Sherry wanted these emails to help her fight a decision that would put her son in an individualized education program and send him off to a transition center. According to Smith, he has an intellectual disability but has attended a general K-12 program with other students his age that shouldn’t require him to move.
“These are emails that, as parents, we should have been included or cc’d on — all email conversations regarding our child in the first place,” said Kevin Smith.
Once hit with the $77,000 cost estimate, Sherry and her husband contacted an attorney. “I think Goodrich schools should be ashamed of themselves for even asking for this amount of money,” attorney Phil Ellison tells KCTV-5 News. “Anyone of us has a year’s worth of emails in our inbox and can select all and forward it and be done with the request in 10 minutes worth of work.”
The Freedom of Information Act in Michigan states a school district can hire a contracted employee to perform necessary services. However, costs should “not exceed an amount equal to 6 times the state minimum hourly wage rate.” District superintendent Michelle Imbrunone says the estimate is based on 4,687.5 hours of work at $16.58 per hour.
The Smiths hope new changes to the FOIA law (restrict government agencies and authorized entities to charging less for records) will help them get what they want — without paying an exorbitant price. It also gives those who request documents the chance to sue for a lower fee.