Education officials post records of all students with appeals online
BY ANDREA EGER World Staff Writer
Saturday, June 09, 2012
6/09/12 at 7:44 AM
Read emails state Board of Education members sent to education officials and Superintendent
Janet Barresi’s response.
The Oklahoma State Department of Education published online educational records with personal information for all 25 of the high school seniors who filed an appeal of high-stakes testing requirements, not just the seven denied this week.
Parents and guardians of several affected students were shocked to learn of the disclosure of documents they thought were only for the eyes of the state Board of Education.
"No, I was not aware of that!" said Ebenezer Duko, father of Broken Arrow High School senior Dallas Dickens-Duko, whose appeal was denied. "I thought everything had to be confidential. I am very concerned and very disappointed. ... I didn't know there was a waiver in the appeal."
Under the Oklahoma Achieving Classroom Excellence Act, 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.
Amid outcry from lawmakers and concerns from state board members, state officials took down the names of the 25 students on Friday and redacted their personal information before reposting their ACE appeal applications on the Internet.
The spokesman for State Superintendent Janet Barresi initially defended the action, but later told the Tulsa World that personal information would be redacted because of state board members' concerns.
"There were conversations. They understand the department was striking a difficult balance between being transparent and dealing with student information. Going forward, we are going to take a look at what other states are doing and whether we could have a system that could assign a case number to students seeking appeals," said Damon Gardenhire.
Through a request under the Oklahoma Open Records Act, the Tulsa World obtained copies of state board members' emails. Gardenhire also included Barresi's response, which was sent to the entire board.
Joy Hoffmeister, a state board member from Tulsa, wrote to Barresi that she was disheartened.
"Based on my recollection, the Board had recently been advised that documents distributed during Executive Session are not subject to the same disclosures as those items distributed outside of Executive Session. I am not an expert in the Open Meeting Act or the Open Records Act, but why were these students' records and privacy not shielded in this same way?" she wrote. "I would suggest that in the future, anyone who exercises their right to an appeal should be given greater care to protect their privacy. When a situation of competing rights exist, I believe it is incumbent upon us, as a public board and government agency, to exercise the highest level of care and protection in favor of children and young students."
Brian Hayden of Enid wrote that he agreed with Hoffmeister, and Amy Ford of Durant wrote to ask why the records had been posted.
Barresi wrote in response: "The record cannot be shielded from the review of the public simply because it is an educational record. The records are educational records, but they are also public records obtained by a public body in the course of official business."
Joey Senat, a journalism professor at Oklahoma State University and one of the state's most ardent advocates for openness in government, said the state's Open Records Act does not supersede federal privacy law concerning educational records.
State board members were not the only ones outraged by the state department's handling of student records. 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, and several Tulsa-area school leaders spoke out because many of the first 25 applicants were from Broken Arrow.
One of the students whose application was denied was Broken Arrow's Shannon McKnight. Rhonda McKnight, her older sister and legal guardian, had not heard about the records fuss.
"No, absolutely not. Is that not an invasion of privacy?" Rhonda McKnight said. "I have talked to the school. They call me on a regular basis. That's pretty crappy."
She said Shannon had no idea she hadn't passed the Algebra end-of-instruction test, which she took this spring. She will begin working on an EOI test alternative on Monday in hopes of earning her diploma.
"She passed her classes. She was planning to go to cosmetology school. You have to have a GED or a diploma," Rhonda McKnight said. "She walked at graduation and was under the assumption that she had passed. More or less, it's just not fair."
Original Print Headline: All 25 students' records posted online
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