Richmond Public Schools to Poor Parents: Drop Dead

Folks in the Richmond area may be aware that Elkhardt Middle School was forced to close its doors due to a mold problem. A group of parents, believing that the school system knew about the problem for a lot longer than RPS was willing to admit, filed a FOIA request seeking “…air quality tests at the school, any complaints about the environment, and paperwork concerning health issues.” School officials said “…they are preparing to work with parents on the issue.”

I’m told the parents got an answer to their FOIA from the Richmond Public Schools and it’s rather interesting. RPS wants something in the neighborhood of $1,700 to look for and provide copies of the requested documents. That’s a neat trick, asking a group of low-income parents to fork over $1,700 for xeroxing public documents. But I’m also told there was a line in the RPS reply that makes this out to be a real deal for the parents in question.

The school system believes parents have requested documents from January, 1002 through March, 2015 — that’s 1013 years for those of you following at home.

Looking at it that way, RPS is really charging the parents about a $1.67 cents (give or take) per year of documents.

That could end up being one heckuva lot of paper. And bark and deer hide. And maybe even a few petroglyphs, too. It would undoubtedly require employing forensic archeologists and anthropologists to sift through the files, and probably require digging up a few parking lots, just to be thorough. The Virginia Department of Historic Resources will also have to be brought in to catalog and preserve whatever is found in its own collections.

We can only speculate as to what the primitive RPS was keeping records of six, seven or eight hundred years ago. Perhaps contingency plans for an outbreak of plague. The fall of Constantinople? Yeah, that had to have changed lesson plans. And how did the arrival of those pasty, smelly, quarrelsome and possibly tubercular folks down river affect school budgeting in 1607? We can’t be sure, but the Elkhardt Middle School parents have made a request that isn’t just unprecedented in the annals of FOIA, it has the potential to rewrite the history books (and the SOLs).

That’s definitely worth a paltry $1,700 bucks. I’ll even chip in a tenner just to find out if RPS officials were spooked by the arrival of Halley’s Comet in 1066.

Or it could be that the Richmond Public School system, in its reply to the FOIA request, made a typo, and the parents really only wanted documents from 2002 through 2015.

Putting aside the notion that a typo like this appears very early in an official document — from a school system charged with educating children — it’s clear the RPS has decided that rather than comply with the request, it has decided to stonewall. There’s no more effective way to thwart a group of low-income parents than demanding they write a big check (with half of the total up front) to see records relating to their children’s health.

Doesn’t sound to me like the school system is working with the parents on the issue. Instead, it’s told them to drop dead.

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