Awareness Area: Education

Federal Student Privacy Law Could Get Better, or . . .

The Student Press Law Center (SPLC), a national nonprofit watchdog for keeping records of schools, colleges and universities open to student journalists and others, is sounding the alarm about pending draft amendments to federal law that could make such information more available to the public—or far less so. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) has frequently been used by public educational institutions to foil public records requests about campus crime and other matters of legitimate general interest.  Anything—not just grades, counseling and disciplinary files—remotely involving an identifiable student—from preschool to post-doc—is typically withheld as the contents of a pupil or student record, whether or not the information has to do with education or is found in the student’s file.  Schools releasing information in violation of FERPA are threatened with the loss of federal funding. Here’s the SOS received today from Frank Lo Monte, SPLC’s executive director.  You can help by informing us of any use of FERPA you have been met with that kept otherwise public inofromation secret. Friends, the abuse of student privacy laws to conceal public records has become a more urgent concern as news organizations are roadblocked in their attempts at covering the issue of sexual assault on college campuses (see as one of many recent examples this piece in Oregon’s Register-Guard). Sens. Markey and Hatch have floated draft legislation responding to privacy advocates that would amend FERPA in an unhelpful way for transparency, and we are urging them to hold a hearing at which those concerned about open government can be heard in hopes of opening a discussion about wholesale FERPA reform. Some background about their draft bill and a link to the draft appears here: http://www.splc.org/wordpress/?p=6277 The Student […]

Headlines in Public Forum Law, October 11 2013

OPEN MEETINGS Judge agrees with LA Times, CalAware: Coliseum Commission repeatedly violated open meeting law PUBLIC RECORDS CalAware, Orange County online news center ask high court relief from county’s invited gag order OPEN GOVERNMENT California’s high court justices cool to State Bar’s claim that its records are closed to public Governor signs bill allowing online filing, display of officials’ statements of economic interests Report: White House, deaf to routine info requests, shows singular zeal to detect, deter leakers FREE PRESS Without a First Amendment, British press freedom depends on journalistic feistiness like this OPEN COURTS Bar panel: Free from video monitoring, judges’ courtroom misbehavior happens off the record FREE SPEECH Modesto Junior College sued for barring student vet from handing out copies of the Constitution Anaheim high school apologizes for barring student from wearing NRA T-shirt depicting hunter Court asked to reconsider: Do words that offer advice, counseling lose presumed freedom of speech?  

Another College Campus Free from Speech

Modesto Community College’s understanding of the First Amendment is very . . . modest How MJC aurhorities prevented a student from handing out copies of the Constitution on Constitution Day (this week) is reported here. This is an extreme case, given the symbolism, but as reported earlier here, Californa public institutions of higher learning are often simply tone deaf when it comes to students’ speech rights.

It’s Official: Faculty Can Speak out on UC Issues

It may come as something of a surprise to many that the professoriat at the university uniquely associated with the Free Speech Movement of the 1960s has never in the ensuing half century been recognized by the UC Regents as having the right to speak out on how their university is governed.  Until now, as explained by Scott Jaschik for Inside Higher Ed.

District to Pay for Forcing Lawsuit for Records

A San Diego County Superior Court judge has ordered a school district to pay $42,500 to an attorney whose client, a parent of a district pupil, was forced to sue the district for access to public records. Michael Robertson was declared the prevailing party in a lawsuit he filed to force the Del Mar Union School District to allow him to see emails sent between former District Superintendent James Peabody and former School Board President Comischell Rodriguez. The lawsuit caused the district to produce more than 1,000 pages of records which the district previously claimed did not exist. “Every citizen has the right to examine their local governments, including school districts, to see how they operate,” Robertson said. “But some public agencies don’t seem to understand that. They use public money to pay attorneys to help them hide their activities from the people they are supposed to serve. That is exactly what this school district did. They spent public money on attorneys to hide how they are spending our money,” Robertson said. Robertson sought the communications because of his suspicions beginning in 2010 that a school employee union was exerting improper influence and unlawfully using district resources to motivate parents to protest funding cuts proposed by the legislature, according to one observer. The District claimed that it searched for but could not locate the records Robertson asked to see. “The reason why . . . is because the district didn’t carefully look for emails,” said Mike Harris, an information technology expert Robertson hired to examine the methods the district used in its search. “The district searched only part of its computer system,” Harris said. “It is the same thing as looking for a letter that […]

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    Teachers, Test Scores and a Punished Publisher Teachers, Test Scores and a Punished Publisher

    Teachers, Test Scores and a Punished Publisher

Teachers, Test Scores and a Punished Publisher

What Gets Measured Gets Publicized? — If a k-12 public school district systematically tracks the average learning progress of each teacher’s class in terms of test scores, should that information be on the public record?  The Los Angeles Times says yes, and is suing the city’s public school system for the data linked to each teacher’s name.  But an interesting question of equity arises.  No such metrics are even required to be gathered, much less released, for individual public college and university professors, or for at least equally important professionals in the criminal justice system—badged officers, prosecutors and judges, prison wardens and probation officers—or indeed of almost anyone else in government. How to Extinguish a Nosy Newspaper — What’s frivolous about a lawsuit to force release of emails that might confirm a tip that a school superintendent used public funds and resources to influence a bond election and a ballot race for the county superintendent of schools? Everything, said a judge in rural Glenn County between Sacramento and Redding: suing too soon and being too aggressive in a case in which thousands of emails (and attachments) were withheld without explanation or justification.  But “frivolous” in this context is not just a basis for dismissal.  It’s been used to warrant an order to the requester to pay the district more than $56,000 in attorney’s fees. The plaintiff, a nearly impoverished but gutsy newspaper publisher in a poor rural county who’s never really operated in the black, says if that order stands it will ruin him.  

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    Public Information Barriers Small and Large Public Information Barriers Small and Large

    Public Information Barriers Small and Large

Public Information Barriers Small and Large

CSU Nickels and Dimes Students for Email Copies A student editor at the Mustang Daily, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo’s campus newspaper, asked the CSU headquarters in Long Beach for a copy of an email sent by the system’s chancellor, Charles Reed, to all campus presidents, about faculty members’ politicking in class and Prop 30.  CSU headquarters, after at first denying the request, citing university policy, then responded that sending him the email would cost 20 cents and he would have to pay first—by check. Punished for Asking Too Early, Too Hard and Too Long The City of Sebastopol, sued for public records showing what it knew and didn’t do about an unsafe street condition that left her an indigent paraplegic, convinced a court that her lawyer was oppressively zealous and that she should pay it more than $80,000 for asking for too much information from too many officials. The Willows Unified School District, sued for public records showing whether its superintendent improperly influenced the electoral process, convinced a court that the weekly newspaper editor who pushed for the information and got some but not much, was liable for $56,000 for pressing too early and too hard. Californians Aware has submitted friend-of-the-court briefs supporting both requesters against these misplaced fee orders punishing supposedly “frivolous”  litigation.        

UC Davis Free Speech Scholars: Blockade Others at Your Peril

Two highly regarded First Amendment scholars at the U.C. Davis Law School have provided some locally (and generally) needed reminders about the difference between blockading others’ passage from place to place and other exercises in civil disobedience, and activity such as picketing which informs without obstructing or interfering with others’ rights.  The new article is summarized by William Creeley, legal director of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, writing in The Moral Liberal.

D.A. Backs CalAware Complaint against School Board

The San Bernardino County District Attorney’s office, based on a complaint submitted by Californians Aware, has warned a school district that using a generic and all-encompassing closed session notice on the school board’s meeting agenda violates the Brown Act.

Be True to Your School—or See Me in My Office

Seniors at La Jolla High School will no longer have to keep their comments about the school positive when they paint them on a campus bench dedicated to their expression. The principal’s ignoring of their speech rights cost the district $22K and change.  Emily Summars reports for the Student Press Law Center.