Wis. open records case involving teachers' personal e-mails moves to state Supreme Court

WISCONSIN — The Wisconsin Supreme Court has agreed to decideif personal messages sent from teachers’ district e-mail accounts areconsidered public records and should be released.

On June 16, the state Supreme Court granted review for Schill v.Wisconsin Rapids School District. After hearing the case in April, theWisconsin Court of Appeals District IV certified the case for the state’shigh court without granting a decision.

The case arose in 2007 after a private citizen filed a public recordsrequest for six weeks worth of e-mails from five teachers’ school accountsin the Wisconsin Rapids School District in Wisconsin Rapids, Wis. The requestersaid he was on a “fishing mission” to determine if teachers wereusing their district accounts for personal e-mailing too often.

The district’s computer usage policy states that employees may usetheir accounts for “occasional personal use.”

Christina Brey, spokeswoman for the Wisconsin Education AssociationCouncil, which is representing the teachers, said the teachers were in fullcompliance with the e-mail policy.

“We’re confident that the court will find that personal e-mailsare not public records as defined by law,” Brey said. “This affectsa lot of people in different roles, not only teachers and support staff butpeople who work in other areas as well.”

Upon receiving the public records request, district officials notified theteachers that they planned to release the e-mails after redacting SocialSecurity numbers, information regarding students’ records, and personalinformation.

While the teachers did not object to the release of work-related e-mails,they filed an injunction to prevent the district from making personal messagespublic. On March 25, a circuit court judge ruled the e-mail messages were openrecords and should be released.

The appeals court is asking the state Supreme Court to first decide ifpersonal e-mails are “records.” If so, the Supreme Court must decideif the “presumption favoring disclosure of public records is overcome bythe public interest in protecting the privacy and reputational rights of itscitizen,” according to a release from the Supreme Court.

By Brian Stewart, SPLC staff writer