An Indiana school district’s opinion to fire its principal after he sent a picture of students to a local newspaper “was lawful, fair and supported by substantial evidence,” a federal judge ruled last week.
The principal, Rick Fears, was fired from his job as principal of Otwell Elementary School in Evansville on Sept. 3, 2013, according to the Washington Times-Herald. When Fears sued, the Pike County School Corporation argued he did not perform teacher evaluations, falsified records and violated the Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act.
In granting the school district’s motion for summary judgment, U.S. District Judge Richard Young said that Fear violated FERPA when he sent a picture of an Otwell third-grade class to the Petersburg Press-Dispatch that showed students who passed a state standardized test. Fear did not tell the newspaper the students’ test scores, the Washington Times-Herald reported.
Attorney Advocate Adam Goldstein: I don’t have an opinion as to whether the principal should be fired for his conduct–I’m merely here to examine the application of FERPA. And as far as FERPA goes, the court was correct: the principal’s conduct would be prohibited by the language of the regulations.
If the students shown in the picture sent to the newspaper were identified as having passed a standardized test, that was a disclosure made by an agent of an institution of information from an education record. That’s what FERPA prohibits, and that’s what happened.
Technically, what FERPA prohibits is a policy or practice of these disclosures, but the institution has to prohibit such disclosures to avoid a practice or policy, and disciplining a noncompliant disclosure is a legitimate use of the statute.
That it seems to be a hysterical overreaction to a basically harmless disclosure isn’t really the point, is it?