May 15, 2021

What’s an Open Records Request, and Why Do We Need Them?

For today’s newsletter, I want to peel back the curtain a bit about my job as a reporter. This week, Oklahoma Watch (represented by Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press) filed a lawsuit against Epic Charter Schools, alleging violations of the state’s Open Records Act and accusing the school of unlawfully trying to charge us for records that should be free (you can catch up on that news with this story.)

So…what’s the Open Records Act? First, the stated purpose of the Open Records Act is to ensure all people can access and review the records of public bodies because it’s our right “to know and be fully informed about their government” so we can “efficiently and intelligently” exercise political power.

There are a few exceptions that public bodies are allowed to keep confidential (certain personnel records, for instance). And it’s not just for journalists. Literally, anyone can request records under the act. But I see a journalist’s role as a government watchdog, which means we file the records requests on the public’s behalf.

So far in 2021, I’ve filed more than two dozen. And those are just the “official” ones (many times, I will informally ask for something and that counts, too.)

What’s considered a record? Emails, meeting minutes and agendas, lease agreements, contracts, reports, complaints and legal documents, to name a few common ones.

I’ve turned records into stories on private school enrollment and new charter schools. I’ve used records to add small details to stories, like this one on a short-lived state Board of Education appointee. And sometimes, the records don’t result in a story – but simply asking is part of our job as watchdogs.

Have a great weekend.

— Jennifer Palmer

Oklahoma Watch Sues Epic Charter Schools Seeking Public Records

The lawsuit requests the release of Epic co-founder Ben Harris’ emails under the Oklahoma Open Records Act [Read more…]

Around the web

  • Examining educational management organizations, charter school reform being negotiated [NonDoc]
  • Oklahoma governor signs ban on teaching critical race theory. [Associated Press]
  • How much money will Oklahoma universities get from the American Rescue Plan? [KGOU]
  • How expanding vaccine eligibility for kids will impact mothers. [The 19th]
  • They moved for in-person school during the pandemic. Now they must decide: Stay or go? [Washington Post]

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