One Story Lesson Plan — Backtracking an open records request

Title

Backtracking an open records request

Description

This lesson promotes student awareness of open records requests by showing them a request used to gather information in the “For Their Own Good” story series and asking them to seek out the information required to re-create some of the open records requests used to gather material for this story.

Objectives

  • Students will understand what open records laws are
  • Students will practice research skills needed to contact a specific government agency
  • Students will draft a practice open records request

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.7 Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words in order to address a question or solve a problem.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.8 Delineate and evaluate the reasoning in seminal U.S. texts, including the application of constitutional principles and use of legal reasoning (e.g., in U.S. Supreme Court majority opinions and dissents) and the premises, purposes, and arguments in works of public advocacy (e.g., The Federalist, presidential addresses).

Length

One 90-minute or two 45-minute class periods

Materials / resources

Slideshow: FOI law

Slideshow: FOI law with teacher notes

“Florida Juvenile Justice: 100 Years of Hell at the Dozier School for Boys” by Ben Montgomery, Tampa Bay Times

Slideshow: Tampa Bay open records requests

Handout: Open records request by Ben Montgomery

Lesson step-by-step

  1. If students have not been exposed to open records laws, use the FOI law slideshow from the Student Press Law Center as a primer.
  2. Have your students read “Florida Juvenile Justice,” either on paper or with annotation software, highlighting information in the story that could only have been found by access to public records.
  3. Using the Student Press Law Center open records letter generator, have students craft a letter to the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice requesting the public records the Tampa Bay Times would have needed to write the story.
  4. Show the Tampa Bay open records requests slideshow, using the quotations to discuss with student the frustrations of working with large amounts of material, organizational strategies and the rewards of looking at primary documents.
  5. Handout a copy of Ben Montgomery’s open records request and have students compare it to the letter they generated, and discuss the differences as a class.