CUNY Law Clinic’s Latest Graphic Novel Teaches FOIA to Teens

 The cover of a new graphic novel designed to teach children about the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Image courtesy of Rebecca Bratspies.

The cover of a new graphic novel designed to teach children about the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Image courtesy of Rebecca Bratspies.

By David Brand

You’re never too young to seek information, though sometimes it takes overcoming some significant obstacles or cutting through red tape.

The CUNY Schools of Law’s Center for Urban Environmental Reform (CUER) has introduced a new comic book designed to help teenagers learn about the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The latest installment in the CUER’s comic book series Mayah’s Lot is titled “What’s Is the Freedom of Information Act . . . or FOIA!?” and features “enviro-heroes” Mayah and her little sister Bina.

CUER was established by CUNY Law Professor Rebecca Bratspies, who has made it her mission to educate lawyers, reporters and students about how to access data and records through FOIA requests.

According to the CUER website, the organization serves as “a clearinghouse and focal point for the data, experts and training needed to ensure a level playing field” and was developed in the belief that environmental justice is a key component of public interest law.

The comic book was illustrated by artist Charlie Lagreca and first introduced to middle-school students at P.S. 122Q in Astoria.

Bratspies and CUER are committed to more than just educating children. Last Saturday, Bratspies partnered with fellow CUNY School of Law Professor Sarah Lamdan and Newmark Graduate School of Journalism Professor Dale Willman to host a daylong environmental FOIA workshop for attorneys, reporters and environmental advocates at the CUNY Law Long Island City campus.

Bratspies and Lamdan spoke with the Eagle about the project “Environmental FOIA in the Age of Trump” in the days leading up to the event and said they were motivated to facilitate the training after encountering significant roadblocks in obtaining records from the Environmental Protection Agency.

“Especially when [Scott] Pruitt was head of the EPA, it was impossible to get anything. There was a bottleneck,” Lamdan said.

Though the state and the city are relatively responsive to FOIA and Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests, Bratspies said she encourages FOIA/FOIL filers to follow up on their requests and become “best friends” with the person in charge of records requests.

“You have to stay on the case,” Bratspies said. “Persistence is key.”