“Parents have a right to know exactly what is being taught to the children, and should have a say in how their children are being taught, especially parents with children with disabilities. As the father of a child with disabilities, I know first-hand how valuable an effective Individualized Education Plan can be, and how crucial it is for parents to have a say in how that plan is formulated and implemented,” said Attorney General Schmitt
. “The Moberly Public School District’s policy that places roadblocks in parents’ ability to record these IEP meetings is outrageous, and their refusal to produce public records relating to that policy is even more absurd. I will not stand idly by while Moberly Public Schools stonewalls parents from having a say in their child’s education, and that’s why we filed suit today.”
In September 2021, the Missouri Attorney General’s Office notified the Moberly Public School District that their policy preventing parents from recording IEP meetings did not comply with the law. Worse, the Moberly School District requires parents to comply with a list of “ten draconian recording ‘rules’ as a precondition of recording their child’s IEP meeting.”
Instead of responding to the Attorney General’s Office directly, the Moberly Public School District posted on its website a short statement to “address” the concerns of the Attorney General’s Office and engage in an “open dialogue” with the Attorney General to “help him better understand the operations of a public school system.”
Subsequently, the Attorney General’s Office filed a Sunshine Law request seeking documents related to how the Moberly Public School District formulated their IEP recording policy. The request was narrow in scope, and most public records responsive to the request would be electronic.
Instead of producing public records, the Moberly Public School District sent the Attorney General’s Office a roughly $3,000 fee estimate and demanded payment to make the requested records available. After the Attorney General’s Office raised that the fee structure and response from the Moberly Public School District were likely violations of the Sunshine Law, the school district expressed its disagreement with the legal assertions in the Attorney General’s Office’s response letter. The Moberly Public School District removed the $800 charge for making ten-cent per-page copies, but did not remove the $1,545.60 charge it had previously characterized as staff time required to “copy” 8,000 pages, instead quoting the exact same fee as “research expense.”
After the Attorney General’s Office raised legal issues, the Moberly Public School District still demanded $2,145.60 for public records before fulfilling the AGO’s request. Further, the AGO believes that the $1,545.60 fee for “research expense” time is to manually print out pages, redact pertinent information, and then scan those pages back in, despite the Moberly Public School District having access to Microsoft Word and Adobe Acrobat, both of which can be used to redact records electronically.
Further, the AGO alleges that the Moberly Public School District did not research records using employees that result in the lowest amount of charges for research time, a violation of the Sunshine Law.
The lawsuit incorporates four counts, and argues that the Moberly Public School District violated the Sunshine Law for request advance payments for public records, failing to use employees that would result in the least amount of charges for research time, and several other violations.
The Attorney General’s Office is requesting the Court require the Moberly Public School District to produce the public records and declare that the district violated the Sunshine Law, and impose civil penalties.
The full petition can be found here: https://ago.mo.gov/docs/default-source/press-releases/11-3-21---final-draft---moberly-public-school-district---petition.pdf?sfvrsn=ca321f81_2
The Attorney General’s Office previously sued the Springfield Public School District for alleged Sunshine Law violations as it relates to requested documents on Critical Race Theory: https://ago.mo.gov/home/news/2021/11/16/missouri-attorney-general-files-suit-against-springfield-public-schools-for-sunshine-law-violations-after-requesting-documents-on-critical-race-theory-in-schools