Court upholds parents’ rights to review teacher evaluations
MICHIGAN–The state Court of Appeals in Lansing in late March upheld the right of a parents’ organization to review the performance evaluation documents for several public school teachers and administrators.
Christine Bradley, a Saranac Community School District teacher, filed a lawsuit claiming invasion of privacy after her performance evaluation records were sought by the father of one of her pupils.
The court upheld a lower court’s ruling against Bradley, pointing out that the state’s FOI Act required disclosure of public records and that her “reverse FOIA” suit was not authorized by the law.
The court concluded that Bradley’s FOI Act claims were not valid and that her privacy claim must be weighed in isolation from the FOI Act.
The court also held that a written FOI Act request does not constitute an objectionable method of obtaining allegedly private information, nor does disclosure of performance and disciplinary materials amount to public disclosure of private facts, since the materials concerned the teacher’s performance in a “matter of public concern.”
The parent who sought Bradley’s records, Robert Karp, Jr., had made a Freedom of Information Act request for copies of all records of disciplinary actions taken against her, written complaints against her, classroom assignments and transfers, evaluations or service rating the past six years, and liability insurance policies covering her.
The school board provided Karp with the transfer and insurance information before the teacher filed suit seeking a declaratory judgment that the personnel evaluations, disciplinary memoranda and written complaints were exempt from disclosure under the FOI Act. The trial court ruled that all of the materials were subject to disclosure.
On appeal, Bradley, joined by the Lansing Association of School Administrators, argued that her personnel records were exempt because their release would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of privacy and that they also fell within the FOI Act’s “intra-agency” memoranda exemption, which excludes intra-agency communications that are “other than purely factual materials and are preliminary to a final agency determination of policy or action.” (Lansing Assoc. of School Admnstrs. v. Lansing School Dist. Bd. of Educ.; Defendant’s Counsel: Phillip Erickson, Lansing)