At a time when most school budgets have no room to wiggle, having to dole out hundreds of thousands of dollars to settle legal fees hurts big time.
It’s exactly what happened when the was recently ordered to pay the legal fees of Mike Harris, a Granite Bay High School parent, as a result of a dispute that began between Harris and the district about two years ago.
The disagreement began in 2009 when from the Granite Bay High School basketball program for having created a satirical video about drug use in the Granite Bay community that was posted on YouTube.
During the fall of 2009 some Granite Bay High School teachers and administrators found out about the video and while the video, according to Harris, did not mention Granite Bay High School and had nothing to do with any of the school’s programs, Harris said he felt his son, Erick, was unfairly treated by school officials.
“Even though I was told by the school principal that Erick did not break any school rules or violate any laws with the making of the video, he was being punished,” Mike Harris said. “It was a purposeful action. And when I asked school administrators how they became aware of the video, I was told I would never be given that information.”
A Fight for Records
Mike Harris said a short time after this incident he asked to see all his son’s school records. Within a few days, Mike Harris said he received access to his son’s cumulative and discipline files.
“They gave me what they said were my son’s complete official record but what they gave me was nowhere near the complete record,” Mike Harris said. “I knew there were emails that were missing. During this time the school never admitted there were additional records. I knew they had them; they just weren’t going to give them to me.”
After not receiving what he believed to be all the records related to his son’s school file, Mike Harris hired Paul Nicholas Boylan, an attorney specializing in records access law.
On Jan. 6, 2010, Boylan filed a Petition for Writ of Mandate arguing that the California Constitution, Education Code and Public Records Act gave Mike Harris the right to view his son’s records and that the school district violated Mike Harris’ rights as a parent when it did not hand over all the files.
Court Rules District Must Pay
The Placer County Superior Court ruled in May that Mike Harris had the right to view all files related to his son. In addition, the district agreed to pay for the legal fees incurred by Mike Harris, which amounted to approximately $135,000.
According to Roseville Joint Union High School District board member Scott Huber, the district also needs to pay for the district’s attorney fees, which amount to “less than $100,000,” according to Huber. Huber also said he does not believe the district had budgeted legal fees for this type of claim.
But Boylan said it isn’t possible yet to know the exact amount of money the district spent on this case. There were two legal firms representing the district in the case and it has not yet been determined how much the district has paid to the second firm nor the cost of the number of hours several district employees spent on this case over a two-year time period.
“Hundreds of thousands of tax dollars were invested in the district’s defense against Mike’s request for records,” Boylan said. “What possible educational purpose could have been achieved even if the district won?”
District Reviews Student Record Policies
As a result of the ruling of this case, Huber said in a written statement, “the district is in the process of reviewing its policies related to the storage and retrieval of student records so that when parents request documents related to their child, they will receive all of the documentation to which they are entitled and want to receive. The district will implement the appropriate policy modifications as soon as they are available, which I anticipate will be in a very short period of time. We will certainly include our experiences from this case in those policy modifications.”
For Mike Harris, he hopes the case will set an example for other parents concerned about their rights and those of their children.
“Everyone has rights,” Harris said. “If those rights are violated, you have an obligation to stand up and fight for them.”