Education department to redact information
BY ANDREA EGER World Staff Writer
Friday, June 08, 2012
6/08/12 at 7:13 AM
Amid outcry from lawmakers and concerns from their own board members, the Oklahoma Department of Education now says it will redact personal information from the records of high school seniors who appeal high-stakes testing requirements.
However, they maintain that students will continue to be required to waive their federal privacy rights concerning educational records in order to enter the appeals process of Oklahoma's Achieving Classroom Excellence Act.
Under the law, which applies to the class of 2012 and beyond, students must pass at least four of seven subject matter tests in order to earn a high school diploma.
Within hours of the State Board of Education's denial of the first seven appeals on Tuesday, officials posted the applications, showing students' names, schools, grade point averages, learning disabilities, test scores and other personal information. Addresses and phone numbers were redacted.
Tulsa-area educators were the first to express outrage, saying the waiver doesn't cover the release of students' confidential information, which is protected by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.
Then on Thursday afternoon, scathing press releases were issued from the offices of House Democratic Leader Scott M. Inman, D-Del City, and state Reps. Curtis McDaniel, D-Smithville, Todd Thomsen, R-Ada, and Dennis Casey, R-Morrison.
"Under the direction of (State) Superintendent Janet Barresi, we see a lack of professionalism, competence and common courtesy. I am sorely disappointed that these students, who are earnestly trying to receive their diploma, will suffer as a consequence," Inman said.
The Republican lawmakers said they will be seeking a legal opinion in the matter.
"This is not a partisan issue. It is about privacy rights," said Thomsen.
Barresi's spokesman had defended the actions on Wednesday, but on Thursday evening, he told the Tulsa World that things would be handled differently in future cases because of the wishes of board members.
"We are going to further redact those documents online, and moving forward redact them in such a way that the board would determine. We have been reviewing how this is handled in other states," said Damon Gardenhire. "If there is any further refinements in this process that need to be made, we are going to make them."
Other state education officials continued to defend the legal basis for publicizing the students' information.
Lisa Endres, general counsel, acknowledged that the federal privacy right waiver form is not specified in the Achieving Classroom Excellence Act or the rules adopted for appeals. But she said it cannot be optional because it is the only way the department can obtain the information it needs to consider ACE appeals.
"They are subjecting themselves to an open-meeting, open-records procedure," Endres said. "That whole appeals process is an open proceeding."
Asked why the state board considered the appeals applications behind closed doors in executive session, Endres answered that they are entitled to under state law and chose to do so.
The board cited a portion of the state Open Meeting Act that allows public bodies to deliberate or render a decision in an individual proceeding under the Administrative Procedures Act. Endres acknowledged that as such, the state board's denial of ACE appeals can be appealed in district court.
Broken Arrow Superintendent Jarod Mendenhall was particularly concerned because four of the seven students whose appeals were handled this week were from his district.
"I'm just sick for the kids and the parents about how this all played out. Their intent was to have their appeal heard, not to have all of their personal information out there for all of the public to see," he said.
"More and more it seems they don't know what they're doing. They just kind of decide what they want to do, what they want to post and what they decide is transparent.
"They are supposed to be there to serve us, but at every step and at every level, there seems to be new (obstacles) that they put in front of us."
Andrea Kunkel, staff attorney for the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration, told the Tulsa World that requiring students or their parents to waive their privacy rights could have a "chilling effect" on students' rights to appeal their denial of a high school diploma.
And Joey Senat, a journalism professor at Oklahoma State University and one of the state's most ardent advocates for openness in government, said, "Those are clearly educational records, and FERPA clearly prohibits releasing them with identifying information. The Open Records Act does not supersede FERPA."
Federal complaint process available
Asked for comment on the situation, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Education said parents and eligible (18 or older) students may file a Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA, complaint. It should include the date the alleged improper disclosure occurred or the date the parent/eligible student learned of the disclosure; the name of the school official who made the disclosure, if that is known; the third party to whom the education records were disclosed; and the specific nature of the information disclosed.
FERPA complaints must be sent by mail, rather than email to:
Family Policy Compliance Office, U.S. Department of Education, 400 Maryland Ave. S.W., Washington, D.C. 20202-5920. For more information, call the office at (202) 260-3887.
Andrea Eger 918-581-8470
Janet Barresi, left, Oklahoma State Department of Education State Superintendent of Public Instruction at a Board of Education deciding to grant high school diplomas to several Oklahoma students who failed state-mandated end-of-instuction exams. DAVID McDANIEL/The Oklahoman