The Tulsa World reports that the Oklahoma State Department of Education published online the educational records with personal information of 25 high school seniors. These students had filed appeals of the state’s high stakes testing graduation requirements. Out of those 25 student appeals, seven were denied.
Parents and guardians of several affected students were shocked to learn that the appeal documents were disclosed online and thought the documents would only be for the eyes of the state Board of Education.
Ebenezer Duko, father of Broken Arrow High School senior Dallas Dickens-Duko, whose appeal was denied, was upset by the disclosure. “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,” he said.
The appeals were filed under the Oklahoma Achieving Classroom Excellence Act (ACE), which states that 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 and redacted their personal information before re-posting their ACE appeal applications online.
Damon Gardenhire, spokesman for State Superintendent Janet Barresi, initially defended the online publication of these records, but later reported that the students’ personal information would be redacted because of state Board members’ concerns. “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,” he said.
Through a request under the Oklahoma Open Records Act, the Tulsa World obtained copies of state Board members’ emails. Mr. 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. She explained that “based on [her] 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? 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.”
In response Barresi wrote that “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 an advocate for openness in government, said the state’s Open Records Act does not supersede federal privacy law concerning educational records.
Source: Tulsa World, 6/9/12, By Andrea Eger