Attorney: Parents Shouldn’t Need My Help to Get Answers
By Warren Norred
Concerned mom Terrie Chumchal only wants simple information to help keep her child—and other children—safe in school. But her son’s Texas school district refuses to give her the straightforward answers she deserves, underscoring the urgent need for transparency in our public school system.
After watching her son be viciously bullied over and over again, Terrie Chumchal submitted a records request to the Joshua Independent School District (ISD) to determine how prevalent such harassment was in her son’s middle school. In a shallow attempt to derail negative exposure, the Joshua ISD demanded $7,111.12 to produce the requested records, arguing that the fee was necessary because personal information in the records needed to be redacted.
I’m proud to represent Terrie in her fight for transparency. But concerned parents like her shouldn’t need a lawyer just to find out what’s going on in their child’s school.
Regardless of whether $7,000 would be an appropriate fee to redact these documents, the district supposed “need” to redact was superfluous. Terrie specifically stated that she was not looking for these details; she was seeking only the top-level number of bullying incidents by year and school from 2015 to 2022.
The Joshua ISD’s petulant response caught the attention of the Goldwater Institute, which is helping the Chumchal family get the answers they’re entitled to. As member of Goldwater’s American Freedom Network of pro bono attorneys, I’ve filed a complaint with the Texas Attorney General, who can question the excessive fee and take formal action to discipline the district, ensuring Terrie gets the answers she’s entitled to.
Beyond the question of redaction, this information should have been available at a negligible cost. The Texas Education Code requires the board of trustees of every public school to develop a set of policies to address bullying. Public schools must ensure that its teachers are trained to prevent, identify, respond to, and report bullying incidents (Tex. Educ. Code § 21.451). They must also develop policies to watch for and reduce bullying, and to collect information on every instance of bullying (Tex. Educ. Code § 37.0832).
As it is required to do by law, the Joshua ISD has published its harassment policy and bullying policy on its website. These policies clearly include the collection of harassment and bullying reports.
Based on its own policies, the Joshua ISD should have already compiled the bulk of the information that Terrie sought before she requested it. What’s worse is that we know this information was available because the district provided the data for the four-year period spanning 2018 to 2022 when another individual requested it.
To be sure, the Joshua ISD is not the only school district that abuses parents with overblown public records fees. And the Joshua ISD uses other abusive tactics, such as criminal trespass notices that it gives to those who question the “wisdom” of its operations. The difference between the Joshua ISD and many other districts around the country is that Joshua has parents who refuse to back down in the face of the district’s irascible behavior.
Education reformers in Texas are right to demand that legislators fulfill campaign promises to rein in these clear attempts to keep parents in the dark. But it is the parents and their children who bear the brunt of the problems and are in the position to expose these issues. For the moment, Joshua ISD parents owe more to Terrie Chumchal than they owe to their elected legislators.
The question is whether those legislators will act on their campaign promises and put real teeth into state law to defend the rights of parents like Terrie. Concerned moms and dads shouldn’t need to file serial grievances and then hope that the Texas Attorney General acts on their complaints. They shouldn’t need legal assistance from attorneys like me just to obtain simple answers about what’s happening in their children’s schools.
Transparency ought to be a given—not something parents need to fight for in legal filings. Parents in the Joshua ISD, and across the state of Texas and the entire country, deserve better.
Warren Norred is Texas-based attorney. As a member of the Goldwater Institute’s American Freedom Network, he is representing Joshua mom Terrie Chumchal in her fight for transparency.
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