Parents, educators make noise after Oklahoma board posts students’ private records

Some would call it a catch 22 – respect the privacy of high school students’ records or adhere to Open Records Act obligations? The Oklahoma State Board of Education has opted for the latter.

According to the Tulsa World on Thursday, Oklahoma’s state board posted private educational records to the state’s website following a hearing of seven students’ appeals for exemption from end-of-the-year testing requirements. The posted information was from a closed-door discussion at the board’s special meeting Monday.

The current rule states high school seniors are required to pass four of seven end-of-instruction exams to earn a diploma. Under a new law – ACE, Achieving Classroom Excellence – students may appeal their final grades in order to graduate.

The seven students, who had their names, grade point averages, learning disabilities and test scores go public, appealed to the board after failing their final exams.

Before the appeals process, the students were required to sign a Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) waiver so their records could be discussed openly by the board. Board officials, however, said the waiver doesn’t cover posting the students’ information on the Internet.

Department spokesman Damon Gardenhire also told the Tulsa World that the board is responsible for providing board materials to reporters and to the public. Within the last few years, it has provided this public information online.

“Appeals of every kind filed with the department are an open record, and ACE appeals are no exception,” he said in the report. “Students, parents or legal guardians are not obligated to sign the FERPA waiver or to bring the student’s academic record into the public eye.”

But many local administrators and parents are still making noise about the post, saying it would have been common courtesy to redact the information or leave it out altogether.

Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, said the board’s posting may not have been in good judgment, but, legally, it’s fair.

“It’s probably not a FERPA violation for a number of reasons,” he said. “The main one is that once a waiver is signed, confidentiality is waived. Beyond that, FERPA is binding on schools, but if the information comes from a source other than a school’s central office, it’s not FERPA information.”

LoMonte said if the student submitted the information for the appeal, it’s no longer the school’s problem.

“FERPA is about the protection of records, not facts,” he said.