Freedom of Information – NYC DOE Drags Feet

This is the tale of two FOIL (Freedom of Information Law) requests, one eventually successful and the other still pending.

In November of 2012, PAHSI wanted a copy of a certain letter that had gone out from the New York City Central Office of Home Schooling (that is, “Homeschooling”) the previous January, and nobody would give it to us. (We would have just gotten a copy from a parent but – guess what? – once a year or so has passed since their kids applied to high school, most parents have either recycled the paperwork or, if the kid did end up going to high school, the family is no longer in touch with homeschooling groups like ours.) 

In the end we decided to file a FOIL (Freedom of Information Law) request. See these two links if you want to know what FOIL requests are, and how quickly they’re supposed to work:

http://schools.nyc.gov/Offices/GeneralCounsel/Legal/FILU/default.htm
http://www.dos.ny.gov/coog/foil2.html  

It was 32 calendar days later when we finally got the letter we had requested. And that was only after we bumped it up to Judy Nathan, First Deputy Counsel in the Office of Legal Services (we got the letter we’d requested about nine hours after emailing her).

It shouldn’t have taken 32 days. There was no need to locate and retrieve the letter from arcane, ancient, distant archives – we had told the FOIL people exactly where it could be found because we knew exactly who had decided not to send it to us. We even gave them that person’s contact info. There was also no need to take time to redact any sensitive information – there were no national security, privacy, or other exemption issues (it was addressed “Dear Parent/Guardian”).  

You can see the entire series of emails about that first request (#F9052) here (we’ve deleted most of the names): F9052.pdf

Also in November of 2012, we filed a second FOIL request (#F9027), and this one is still dragging on. It’s a request for the instructions to middle school guidance counselors on how to process the high school application forms. (If we knew any middle school guidance counselors, we’d just ask one for a copy. It really shouldn’t be so hard for the FOIL office to locate this.) You can see that series of emails here, again with most names deleted: F9027.pdf

Why did/do we want these things that we’ve requested?

There’s a flaw in the high school application process for homeschoolers that we’d like to see fixed (more on that in a future post). We were working on better understanding how it might be fixed when our usual process of working directly with the NYC Office of Home Schooling completely broke down.  

You know the word “Partnership” in “Partnership for Accurate Homeschooling Information”? That’s supposed to be a reference to partnering with government entities to improve the flow of information about homeschooling, and it had worked well on many occasions (see our “About PAHSI” page).

But recently we’ve hit some snags with the NYC DOE (not just the Office of Home Schooling, but higher up, too) on various issues (access to ARIS ParentLink for homeschoolers, and their ability to correct their children’s computer records and retrieve their children’s past paper records – all of these are interconnected). And that culminated in our not being able to get the letter related to high school applications in the way we normally would. So we decided to go all official on it.

We’re not sure how that will work out for the second FOIL request. Will the DOE be FOILed again by our persistence? Stay tuned!

And if you’re a homeschooler who’s had problems with the high school application process, please write to us at comments@pahsi.net .