BW student info basis of public records request


SUNBURY — A controversial public records request was a topic of discussion during the Big Walnut Board of Education meeting on Thursday.

From Feb. 14 to March 14, there were 10 new public records requests, said district Treasurer Darren Jenkins during his report. All but one of those have been processed, taking 24 hours to process by the district’s financial and information technology staff. The associated legal fees for those requests were $41,161. The legal fees include making redactions to 40,000 emails.

“I’d like to just take a minute to discuss the outstanding records request, and quite honestly, I wanted the board and the public to be aware of the request before it’s fulfilled,” Jenkins said.

“We had an anonymous request for directory information of all of our students in the district,” Jenkins said. “By code, the only thing that we can say and discriminate against the request is that we do not give data out for a profit-making venture. The requestor has assured us that it will not be used for profit-making, but that’s all we have. We don’t have an address. They want it delivered electronically, so everyone needs to understand that we have very little latitude under the law for meeting this request.”

This single request was made on Feb. 27, Jenkins said in response to questions. He said other districts have received similar requests in prior years but wasn’t sure about now.

“So, we’re going to have over 4,200 students — their names, their addresses, their grade level, awards, graduation date — those types of things — go out to an entity that we don’t know who it is,” Jenkins continued. “Obviously, that causes us great concern, given society today. We don’t know how they’re going to be used, but we’ve consulted with our legal advisors. (Superintendent Ryan) McLane has contacted our elected representatives to bring this to their attention. But as we sit here today, we have very little latitude but to respond to this request.”

Jenkins went on to say that he wanted the board and the public to know about the request, and that “our hands are tied.” He said this was confirmed in a meeting earlier that day with attorneys. However, the data has not been pulled yet, Jenkins said, although doing so shouldn’t take long.

“We do not have to supply data that doesn’t already exist,” Jenkins said. “But in this instance, we have this data … I don’t think anyone foresaw this eventuality.”

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (commonly known as FERPA), a 1974 federal law, defines what directory information is, Jenkins said, as does the Ohio Revised Code (ORC) and board policy — student’s name, address, telephone listing, date and place of birth, major field of study, participation in officially recognized activities and sports, weight and height information, members of athletic teams, dates of attendance, date of graduation, and awards received.

In response to a question from the board, he said that while parents do have the option to not provide directory information, it would mean that their child also would not be able to be mentioned as being on the honor roll or rushing for 100 yards in a football game, etc.

However, not all students have their information made available for privacy or security reasons. Student safety was the main concern to McLane and the board regarding the request.

“I reached out to Sen. Andrew O. Brenner (R-Delaware) March 7 to make him aware of this,” McLane said. “It falls in line with ORC 3319.321. … He said he would have his staff look into it and see what we can do. So, I’m waiting on an update from him.”

McLane said handing over the names and addresses of minors to an anonymous person intersects with concerns over sex trafficking and the proximity of the district to the interstate.

“This is not unique to us,” said board member Stephen P. Fujii. “These types of things are happening across the country from public records requests (about policies or people), but I’ve not known any of them to be necessarily about student information. I find that deeply troubling. We’re not talking about somebody asking for our football roster, we’re talking about somebody asking for all of our students.”

“I share your concern, as does every member of this administrative team, as I’m sure you all do,” Jenkins said, referring to the board. “We have attempted to do our due diligence before fulfilling this request. It doesn’t set well with me either. The problem is we just don’t have a whole lot of options.”

Jenkins said he didn’t want to release the information, but he wasn’t sure if federal funding would be at stake if the request was refused.

“That would cost the district $500 for non-compliance if they took us to court,” board President Doug Crowl said. “That’s the fine, correct? I’m not a lawyer, I play one sometimes, but I do believe that’s the (state) fine. I’d rather pay the fine …”

“… and protect our students,” board member Alice Nicks concluded Crowl’s thought. “How liable are we going to be if something happens to a group of our students because some pervert had their identity, followed them home, and their parents never saw them again?”

Crowl asked if the district could file for injunctive relief, meaning a court could prevent the information from being released. He wished to be present for any conversations on the matter. Crowl thanked Jenkins for bringing the request to the attention of the board.

“We take this request very seriously, and we take the idea of student safety very seriously,” Jenkins said. “That’s why we are investigating every avenue before responding to this request.”

Assistant Editor Gary Budzak covers the eastern half of Delaware County and surrounding areas. He may be reached at [email protected].

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