Mother charged $77,000 from school for access to emails involvin - WNEM TV 5

Mother charged $77,000 from school for access to emails involving son

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GOODRICH, MI (WNEM) -

A mother said she was given a $77,000 price tag when she tried to get information from her son's school.

She said the school is essentially refusing to honor a request she has every legal right to make.

The controversy surrounds e-mails regarding that woman's son, who has an intellectual disability.

When this parent of a Goodrich school's student got the bill she didn't believe it. Now she's thought about what they want to charge her and she's hired an attorney.

For $77,000 you can buy some pretty nice stuff like a used convertible Bentley Continental GT, or a used helicopter and flying lessons.

According to Sherri Smith, you can also buy access to her son’s school records.

“It's just disgusting they would ask that from parents,” Smith said. “I expected a nominal fee in exchange for some emails.”

Smith said she filed a Freedom of Information Act request pertaining to her special needs son. She said all she wanted was a year's worth of email correspondence instead of a nominal fee.

Smith said she got the outrageous charge of more than $77,000. 

"I do consider this flat out a denial,” Smith said.

She said the astronomical charge is making her wonder what the district may be hiding.

"In fact, I believe that by them throwing up a brick wall it makes me question more, so why can’t I have those emails,” Smith said.

According to the letter, the Goodrich schools superintendent said it would take the district two years and more than 4,500 hours at a rate of $77,780 to get those emails.

“I think Goodrich schools should be ashamed of themselves for even asking for this amount of money,” said Phil Ellison, Smith’s attorney.

Ellison said he's not buying the district's explanation of charges.

“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,” Ellison said.

Ellison also said the Freedom of Information Act laws change on July 1. The biggest change has to do with people being charged too much money, like in Smith's case, he said.

TV5 wanted some answers from the Goodrich school district so they called and talked to trustee Timothy Zirnhelt. He said he does not agree with the superintendent. 

“It seems a bit high,” he said.

So far there is no indication the district will back away from the charges. As for Smith, she said she wants the information, but refuses to pay tens of thousands of dollars.

"No matter how you look at this, it does not make sense,” she said.

Smith's attorney said one of the reasons he's so outraged is that under Ferpa law parents have a right to any information pertaining to their child’s school record at little to no cost.

A new request will be filed on Wednesday when the law changes.

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