In Texas, the Public Information Act recognizes that the citizens have a right to “inspect or copy” government records. Increasingly in North Texas, parents are utilizing this right to gain insight regarding the inner workings of their school districts. However, in the city of Frisco, the Frisco Independent School District (FISD) seems to be making it difficult for parents and citizens to seek information via PIRs (public information requests).
Families 4 Frisco, a parent-led PAC, has experienced numerous instances of difficulty, obfuscation, and evasion regarding their members’ PIRs. They claim PIRs have been closed without being completed and that costs are inflated beyond what is reasonable. As well, the FISD does not allow for online payments of PIRs, and electronic correspondence is not provided as an option on some district responses even when the district contacts a PIR requestor electronically. The PAC says these, as well as requesting that the citizen submitting the request agree to redaction, amount to stall tactics by the district.
A concerned parent and member of the PAC steering committee submitted a PIR regarding all information related to the work of Anthony Muhammad. Mr. Muhammad is a paid teacher-training consultant for the FISD. His Twitter bio lists the company known as New Frontier. As Mr. Muhammad, according to his Twitter feed, is pro-critical race theory, the parent requested any information on Mr. Muhammad or the company New Frontier. She was advised that the PIR would cost $144, and she agreed to the charges. At this time, the district should have looked for the relevant records and produced an invoice for payment. However, after she accepted the charges, no records were produced, the parent never received an invoice, and the PIR was closed immediately. The district said that nothing existed. At that time, the parent received nothing.
She contacted the district. Upon speaking with representatives of the district, she was told that they couldn’t find anything for New Frontier but that there were records for Mr. Muhammad. Since her request included both, she was confused. The district kept insisting that nothing existed for New Frontier and that she would have to put in a new request specifically for Mr. Muhammad.
The parent possesses screenshots from FISD staff of their Twitter accounts commenting on Mr. Muhammad. When she advised the district that if the staff was commenting on a training vendor on social media, surely something must exist. When she pressed the district on the limited return, the response was that it was not their responsibility to offer legal advice—a true statement, but odd since this parent was merely stating policy on vendors and stating that there must be invoices, proposals, or contracts related to this particular vendor. As of this date, this steering committee member and parent has yet to have her request fulfilled in its entirety.
It was noted that a different PIR for Nikki Mouton—the equity, diversity, and inclusion strategist for FISD—included emails referencing training by Mr. Muhammad, as well as a link (the link was not live in the PIR results) to the training materials. This appears to indicate that the parent was not given all of the information she requested.
Further, a separate PIR on the combined AP and one-level ILA pilot program at several middle schools referenced Mr. Muhammad. This PIR referenced different details including a district expense report including line items for his work. None of this was provided in the district’s response. A complaint was subsequently filed with the AG. The district was asked to certify that they had provided all the records. They claimed that they had.
Another PIR was for Rene Archambault’s emails. Ms. Archambault is the current board of trustees’ president. A Families 4 Frisco member requested 12 months of Ms. Archambault’s emails. Five times, the district requested that the scope be narrowed. After multiple delays and requests to “narrow the scope,” the district quoted a charge of more than $300. After 10 days, the district failed to fulfill the request and sent the responsive records to the attorney general, requesting that they be allowed to redact the correspondence. The original request was submitted in early August; to date, no results have been obtained by the requestor.
An explanation given by the FISD for this is that some of the correspondence is between Ms. Archambault and Daniel Stockton. While Mr. Stockton is a lawyer, he does not represent the district in legal matters, so the issue of confidentiality and privilege would not seem to apply. The AG has not ruled on this matter.
A PIR was also filed for Nikki Mouton’s emails for a three-month period. The district claimed the file would contain over 7300 emails. It seems out of the realm of possibility that one district employee could send and receive that volume of emails in that time period. The cost for that PIR was estimated between $576 and $720.
Another parent requested emails and work product regarding the recent rezoning; even though the file was 3,500 pages long, the parent was given this file for a cost of $113. This request was originally for a much longer period, and while it does not have all of the information the parent requested, it seems it is possible to receive one year’s worth of emails at a lesser quoted fee.
The PAC president, a former FISD teacher, submitted a PIR after receiving multiple complaints from concerned parents regarding a “Privilege Walk” conducted at an FISD high school where students were singled out in front of their classmates based on race, native language, personal disabilities, and other characteristics and experiences. The PIR was for the Privilege Walk assignment and corresponding TEKS. She was charged in full but was originally only provided one-third of her PIR request. She had multiple communications with the district to receive the remainder of the information (for which she was charged). She asked for a detailed receipt for the cost of her PIR for her records. The district’s response was to require her to submit another PIR to obtain that receipt, for which she was charged an additional $9.
The PAC continues to seek help from the attorney general’s office at this time to ensure that the district complies with the intent of the law.
Texas Scorecard reported in October regarding how ISD’s are responding to the increase in parent/community member PIR’s. It was reported that Daniel Stockton, Frisco ISD Executive Director of Government and Legal Affairs, participated in a panel at a TASB conference this past summer in Dallas, advising other school board officials on how to respond. One of the tactics that Mr. Stockton referenced was to ask for clarification. Parents feel that the “narrow scope” mantra is used as a stall tactic.
“I think a lot of times when we read public information requests, if you think it’s really clear what they’re asking for, we don’t think to ask for clarification,” Daniel Stockton said.
Families 4 Frisco is asking for complete transparency and cooperation from the district in regards to members’ PIRs.
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