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Creating open records requests, part 2


An important part of journalistic coverage is knowing how to complete open records requests for supportive data that add depth and perspective to your school and local reporting. This lesson will help prepare your students to create open records requests, specifically by noting what records are legally excluded from such requests. Note: This lesson directly follows Open Records Part 1.



  • Students will become familiar with open records, what they are used for and how to gain access to them.
  • Students will create an open records request using the SPLC open records request generator.
  • Students will identify and note for future reference exclusions from open records requests.


Common Core State Standards



Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.


Come to discussions prepared, having read and researched material under study; explicitly draw on that preparation by referring to evidence from texts and other research on the topic or issue to stimulate a thoughtful, well-reasoned exchange of ideas.


Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.


Integrate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) in order to make informed decisions and solve problems, evaluating the credibility and accuracy of each source and noting any discrepancies among the data.


50 minutes



Blackboard or whiteboard

Teacher laptop and digital projector

Article: Access to high school records

Resource: Public records letter generator

Resource: Freedom of Information law primer

Internet access

Student computers


Lesson step-by-step

1. Warm up—5 minutes

Ask students to review the main lessons and terminology from the Open Records Part 1 lesson. Ask: What is an open record? Why are the important? How can they be useful?

2. Group reading review—15 minutes

Students will go back to the readings used in Open Records Part 1 (Access to High School Records and Freedom of Information Law Primer). Students should re-read the materials and look for the specific guidance on what material is excluded or not allowed under an open records request and why.

3. Teacher-led discussion—20 minutes

After the reading, engage students in a discussion to list and explain the types of public records permitted that are often excluded from open records requests. Note student comments on the board. Discuss, and then ask why they think such information may be excluded. Can they think of other ways of obtaining the information? Do they think such information is relevant or essential to a story using public record information?

Be sure the discussion hits on key federal exclusions found from the readings and discussion:

  • National security
  • Internal agency rules
  • Information specifically excluded by other federal law (the “catch-all” exception)
  • Trade secrets
  • Internal agency memoranda
  • Personal privacy
  • Law enforcement records
  • Bank reports
  • Oil and gas well data
  • Information that kept as public records
  • Check your state open records laws for exclusions particular to your state. Florida, for example, has 19, including medical and birth records, adoption records and most tax information filed with the Department of Defense.


Assessment—10 minutes

Students will write a short statement listing the excluded items and then will choose one to elaborate on regarding how that record type or information could help a story and how to gather that information in other ways. Students should also write about the ethics of obtaining such information and using it in stories. Turn the statement in to the teacher or student editors, who will read the responses to check for understanding and application.



Students who need additional time for reinforcement of ideas should continue researching open records story ideas. Direct students to use the internet to search for articles about using open records so they can read more information and expand their knowledge.