(WBFF) -- A Carroll County mom is stunned when she tries to get her own daughter’s school records. What she got back instead, convinced her to contact Project Baltimore.
Rose Kitzinger has four children. Her oldest, Marissa, was diagnosed with autism in fifth grade.
“Marissa went through a lot of bullying in school,” Kitzinger says. “Being a child with autism is not always kind.”
When Marissa, who’s now 21, got to high school, the family realized Carroll County Public Schools was not the right fit. To help find a school that would be, they needed information. So,the family filed a public records request to get Marissa’s educational history – emails, lesson plans, everything. What they got back was not what they expected.
“What I got back was an invoice for almost $34,000 to receive our child's records,” she says. “I think they were trying to shut us down as parents. I mean, what are we supposed to do, write a check for $34,000? There was no way for us to do that.”
Project Baltimore found $34,000 is enough to pay for three full semesters at Towson University, more than 11,000 gallons of gas or a brand new Toyota Sienna minivan.
“When government wants to charge fees that are outrageous, they're creating roadblocks and obstacles to the public getting the information,” says Scott Marder, an attorney with Thomas and Libowitz in Baltimore City.
Marder represents Project Baltimore in an ongoing public records lawsuit against Baltimore City Schools. He says governments charging exorbitant public records fees is a tactic to silence people who already paid for the information as taxpayers.
But it’s not just parents who face these fees. Earlier this year, Project Baltimore requested building maintenance reports from City Schools which estimated a charge of $36,290. Baltimore County Schools estimated at least $34,000 for gifts, travel costs and lawsuits documents.
“They have people who they're already paying salaries to, so they're not incurring extra fees to find these records and produce them to you,” says Marder.
In a statement to Fox45, Carroll County Public Schools said it provided Kitzinger with all her daughter’s records that were currently available. But the school system only keeps emails for 90 days. To retrieve and redact emails older than that, would be very expensive.
“Oh, it was a slap in the face,” Kitzinger tells Project Baltimore.“I was upset, but I'm very productive when I'm angry, you know? You can ask my husband that.”
Kitzinger used her $34,000 worth of anger to fight the school system. She never paid that huge bill, and never got all of Marissa’s educational records. But she did get Marissa placed in a non-public school that could better meet her educational needs. She’s now in Carroll Community College working on a biology degree.
“$34,000 is absurd,” she says. “When counties can shut parents down by doing something like that, charging $34,000, then the spirit of the law is lost.”
By law, government organizations can charge a reasonable fee to fulfill public records requests. But, Marder says that should be rare and certainly not cost tens of thousands of dollars. Carroll County does have a new superintendent and Kitzinger said she hopes it will be a positive change.