Texas Mom Defeats Bureaucrats Who Demanded $7,000 for Bullying Records

Terrie Chumchal

Are public schools keeping children safe? A Texas school district demanded a concerned mom fork over more than $7,000 to find out. But after Goldwater Institute stepped in on the mom’s behalf, the district backed down and gave her the answers she’s entitled to.

Terrie Chumchal only wanted simple information to help keep her child—and other children—safe in school. For two years, her son endured bullying from other middle-school students, much of it on account of his Korean American heritage. Making matters worse, the Joshua Independent School District refused to provide parents with straight answers about what was happening in its schools, stonewalling Terrie and other district parents whose children experienced severe acts of bullying.

Seeking to uncover the extent of the issues within the district, Terrie submitted a public records request last November for the number of bullying, incident, assault, police, and grievance reports filed with the district between 2015 and 2022. In response, the district’s lawyers told Terrie that accessing this simple information would cost $7,111.12 in public records fees. Parents across the country are facing similar demands as they try to uncover what schools are hiding—and unfortunately, it can take legal action to get answers.

In December, attorney Warren Norred, who is volunteering his services with Goldwater’s American Freedom Network of pro bono attorneys, filed an appeal with the Texas Attorney General’s Office challenging the district’s excessive fee demand. Ultimately, the district had no choice but to retreat and give Terrie the answers she sought for $108—just 1.5% of its original demand.

“My son was the victim of bullying and assaults for over two years, but instead of answering my simple questions, the district tried to bully me into silence,” Terrie says. “It’s not complicated: Don’t families have a right to know if their kids are safe without paying thousands of dollars in public records fees?”

“I was proud to help Terrie win her fight for transparency. Texas law is clear on the matter—and the facts were on our side,” Warren adds. “But concerned parents shouldn’t need a lawyer just to find out what’s going on in their children’s schools.”

After all, Terrie had only requested the number of reports—information she is entitled to under Texas’s public records law—and not the content in them. This is information that a school district should easily be able to obtain and provide to parents without concern of sharing private or sensitive data. But this case isn’t an outlier—school districts around the country are charging outrageous public records fees to scare parents away from asking questions. The nearby Fort Worth Independent School District, for instance, demanded parents pony up $1,300 to see a book list—only backing down after the Goldwater Institute got involved.

Whether it’s matters of school safety or questions about their children’s curriculum, public school districts should never keep parents in the dark. But the laws governing public records requests can be confusing, and citizens are often unaware of their rights. The Goldwater Institute’s Ask Your School Now website gives parents the tools they need to file effective public records requests when the government tries to keep secrets. And the American Freedom Network of pro bono attorneys stands ready to help parents in every state access the information they deserve to see.