Student reporter gets $8,000 FOIA bill from school district

The Freedom Of Information Act is not free - a high school journalist submitted a FOIA request and got a bill for nearly $8,000.

It was a tough lesson for budding journalist Chris Robbins who wasn't going to let that bill stop him from getting the truth.

FOX 2: "Did you think it was going to be this hard to get the info?"

"No, definitely not," said Chris Robbins.

Robbins got his first hard lesson in journalism that  apparently the truth will cost you.

The high school senior wanted to know why Plymouth Canton Community Schools blocked certain websites and who was responsible for making those decisions.

"I thought the school may have been hiding something," Robbins said. "Maybe I should know more about it."

Just like any good reporter, in the 17-year-old's pursuit of the facts he made a FOIA request.. He wanted the emails of 85 faculty members who wanted the websites blocked.

But when he got the bill, Robbins was blown away. Plymouth Canton Community Schools charged him $7,900.

FOX 2: "When you saw that what did you think?"

"Wow," Robbins said. "Complete shock for them to charge a student for that much money."

Robbins says he couldn't even come close to affording that. He writes for his school newspaper The Perspective and is a member of the choir - and he doesn't even work.

So he appealed the district's decision only to be slapped with an even bigger bill.

"(That bill was) over $8,800," he said. "A totally ridiculous amount."

In a document, the district broke down the costs claiming it would take someone, who is paid nearly $50 an hour and 176 hours total, to get his information.

In the end, Robbins modified his request. The school finally gave him part of his information - free of charge.

Chris says it's a start - but his pursuit of the truth is far from over.

"It takes a lot of hard work, but hard work pays off in the end," he said.

In response, Plymouth Community Schools says it carefully responds to all FOIA requests in accordance with the law.

"The FOIA process is often not well-understood by those who have not previously used it, and it is understandable that pupils may not be aware that Section 4 of the Act provides the structure for fees associated with producing records."

It goes onto say they try to work with the requestor and provide as much information without incurring those fees, which we did see with Chris.

He says he plans to pursue the emails and will have the story in his school paper on Dec. 18.
 

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