The Gorham school district used to get a few requests each year for internal public records such as emails or financial documents.

But since September, the district has received 38 requests for public records, most seeking materials related to gender identity, sexuality, sexual orientation, race and privilege, and how the school district is teaching students about those topics.

One request in the past year sought training and informational material for school staff related to gender pronouns; another sought information about anti-racism training, and another a copy of a health class curriculum.

The school department has hired a part-time staffer to help respond to the influx, and its requests for legal advice about what qualifies as a public record have pushed the district’s taxpayer-funded legal expenses over the past six months to five times the amount budgeted for the entire year.

Maine’s Freedom of Access Act allows the public to request information from the government and was created to ensure that citizens can hold the government accountable. All agree it’s an important legal right that ensures transparency. But some worry that the law is being weaponized to the detriment of public education.

School districts across the state have seen unprecedented increases in FOAA requests in recent years, said Maine School Management Association Executive Director Steven Bailey, who has been in education for 50 years. The same has happened nationally, with school districts of all sizes seeing significant jumps in public records requests, specifically those related to gender and equity.


Some Maine districts that have seen the biggest increases include those in Gorham and Hermon. Since September 2021, the Gorham district has received 63 requests. The Hermon district has received around 25 since April 1.

The public’s right to information about government activities and spending is fundamental to a transparent democracy. Every state, and the federal government, have public records laws.

Education-focused conservative groups have increasingly taken note and encouraged supporters to use the laws to collect information about school districts.

Parents Defending Education, a national group that contends schools are indoctrinating children with ideologically driven curriculums at odds with “basic American values,” explains on its website and in a 40-minute video what freedom of information acts are and how to use them.

“Public school parents have a vital weapon in their arsenal: the Freedom of Information Act or similar local public records laws,” the group says.

Parents Defending Education did not respond to questions from the Press Herald about its use of public records laws.


The organization encourages using the laws to request contracts, curriculums, emails, training materials, and other information that may reveal how a district is using its funding and approaching diversity, equity, inclusion, gender, and sexuality education.

That’s exactly what some parents are doing in Maine and nationally.

The Gorham school district had to hire a part-time staffer to help handle the influx of requests, according to Heather Perry, district superintendent for eight years.

Perry said the district had received just two or three requests in past years, but now is receiving dozens. Of the 63 requests sent to the Gorham district since September 2021, 41 were from one parent, Eric Lane, who has repeatedly requested that the district remove posters about gender from a middle school classroom, saying they don’t agree with his Christian values.

Lane did not respond to a request from the Portland Press Herald for an interview.

In addition to the cost of an additional employee for 20 hours a week at $26 per hour, responding to the requests has cost a significant amount in legal fees.


The Gorham school department budgeted $30,000 for legal services, but they will soon have spent five times that with half the fiscal year remaining. Gorham school committee Chairman Darryl White said that is partially because of the records requests – the district has sought legal review to ensure the records don’t reveal confidential information.

Government entities that receive FOAA requests can charge up to $25 per hour for any time spent responding to them that exceeds two hours, and to cover copying costs. But Perry and other district leaders said people have caught on and started splitting their requests into bite-sized pieces that take less than two hours individually, but are very time-consuming overall, to avoid most charges.

None of the districts that have contacted the Maine School Management Association about how to handle the surge in FOAA requests bemoans the intent of public records laws, Bailey said. But they feel the requests, which tend to come from just a few individuals, are excessive and they worry about their content and the time and cost of responding.

Perry said she’s a huge supporter of public records laws. “It’s an extremely important law when it comes to government transparency and oversight,” she said. But she worries about how the law is being used and the cost to taxpayers.

Hermon Superintendent Micah Grant said responding to the requests leaves less time for his other duties.

Grant said one request was for every email sent by seven district employees to one another over a six-month period, a request that was eventually narrowed by the requester but would have included 65,000 emails, all of which would have had to have been reviewed for confidential information.

“I accept that it’s part of the job,” Grant said. “At the same time, it’s frustrating that time is being taken away from me doing other more important parts of the job related to educating our students.”

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