With just a few requests made of state and local school districts, the Green Alliance for Sex-Based Rights is helping to shine a light on some of the shocking and unscientific promotion of transgender ideology being taught to many of the nation's schoolchildren.
Making such requests is an important first step in our efforts to combat gender ideology indoctrination in our education system. We first need to know exactly what we are up against in order to determine the best strategy. Our members, concerned parents, feminists and other allies can help advance this work by making similar Freedom of Information Act or Open Records Act-type requests of your own state and local boards or similar regulatory authorities -- and then let us know what you have found. If you are a member, you can report back to our list-serve; if not yet a member you can contact us here.
I do not hold myself out as an expert on this subject, but I have had some experience in making these requests. To some extent, we all have to learn this by doing. Be aware that, if one request fails, you can always submit a new or revised one, within reason. There may also be legal options to pursue if you get repeatedly stonewalled.
(1) Understanding your state open records laws
First things first: You have to learn at least a few basics of what your state freedom of information statute is called, and how it works. The federal Freedom of Information Act will not apply to state or local government boards or agencies. Some states have their own “freedom of information act” and it will literally be called that. For example, in Illinois, it is simply called the “Illinois Freedom of Information Act.” In other states, however, the same type of law may go under a different name, such as the “Open Records Request Act” or something of that nature. Each state is different, and the content of the relevant statute will also vary from state to state, so you will need to do a little bit of research on that to start.
One helpful resource in this regard is the National Freedom of Information Coalition, found on the web at National Freedom of Information Coalition – Protecting Your Right to Open Government (nfoic.org). It has state-by-state guides and a lot of other helpful resources.
(2) Identify to whom your request should be addressed
Once you get a better handle on what your state FOIA law is called and how it works, you will next need to find a contact person or contact point on the website of the particular government body from which you are seeking information -- be it your state school board, or local or regional board or similar administrative body. Increasingly, many of these bodies have records requests pages or tabs right on their websites, where you can fill out a form on-line and submit your request that way. Others may be harder to find. You may end up having to just call the administrative office of the district in question to find out how and to whom to send the request.
(3) Crafting your request
After you find the right access point or person, you next need to submit your request. Here again, there is no one “right” way to do this, and you may need to experiment a bit. Be aware that most state or local government bodies will be permitted to deny a request if the number of records responsive to the request is “too voluminous” or if it would impose an “undue hardship,” etc., on the body in question, to search, locate and produce copies of all of the documents you request. Therefore, you may want to keep your requests somewhat narrowly worded, either by time (i.e., put a date limitation on it, such as “all documents in your possession created or received since January 1, 2019, that refer to _______________”) or by content.
(3)(a) Cost considerations
You also need to be aware that, depending on your state law, most government bodies can charge you for the search and response if your request results in a response of over a certain number of pages (usually 50 or 100), and that the body can also charge you “reasonable” copying charges for each page over the page limit if the documents exist only in hard copy. (I once had a case in which the body tried to charge me 25 cents a page, among other deliberate roadblocks, and was able to get a court order to knock it down to something like 10 cents a page. The point being that, if the district or officer puts up an unreasonable barrier, it doesn’t hurt to quote the law and push back a little.)
Fortunately, more and more such documents are available in electronic or pdf format these days, and, therefore, the cost of reproduction may not be an issue as long as you make clear that you are willing and able to accept the documents in that format. However, if that is not the case, and the district or agency in question can only provide some or all of the documents in hard copy form, or needs to charge you for scanning them, then one way to deal with that is to put an expense “cap” into your request. For example, you can state in your request a sentence like the following: “Please notify me beforehand and do not process this request if you determine that the cost of compliance will exceed $____.”
(3)(b) Scope of the request
As to suggested content of the request, this, too, may require a bit of experimentation and making more than one request, varying the content, in order to get the documents that you seek.
Bear in mind that a government body will generally deny a request if the request is worded in such a way that it requires the body to generate a new document. For example, if you were to submit a request saying: “Please describe what concepts you are teaching students in grades 1-6 with respect to ‘gender dysphoria’,” that would almost certainly be denied in a heartbeat. Generally, the government body in question is only required to provide you with access to, or copies of, documents that already exist, and are in its possession. The body does not have to answer questions about what it is doing or teaching, or create a new document, in order to respond to your request. It might choose to do so, but the law probably will not require it to do so under the applicable state statute.
(4) Sample requests
The request that I used, successfully, for the Illinois State Board of Education, was the following:
“Any and all documents, and/or links to online resources, currently in use or in force, containing rules, policies, curricula guidelines and other instructional materials, intended to provide guidance to Illinois public school teachers regarding how to teach the subjects of gender identity, gender dysphoria and/or gender affirmation to students.”
Since that got me the info I wanted, I didn’t need to follow up. However, some of the other ideas I had for follow-up included:
“Any and all documents that identify any organizations that have provided within the last three years, are scheduled to provide, or are under consideration to provide, trainings for Illinois public school personnel or students regarding gender identity.”
or, . . .
“Training materials used by district or school staff to educate teachers about gender identity, and, if applicable, links to, or copies of video or audio recordings showing any of those trainings or portions thereof.”
or, . . .
“Any and all documents, generated or received since January 1, 2019, that reference one or more of the following books:
- I Am Jazz;
- It Feels Good to Be Yourself;
- A House for Everyone;
- Introducing Teddy;
- Red: A Crayon's Story; and/or
- When Aidan Became a Brother.”
Again, you may need to experiment and try more than one request in order to get the documents that will reveal what our children are being taught in our public schools about gender ideology. But with a little effort and determination, you should be able to get what you want.
(5) If you need help
If repeatedly stymied, report back to the list-serve, or contact us, and we can try to determine the best next steps.