Records act exempts disclosure of high school election totals
VIRGINIA–In a mid-September decision, the state Supreme Court held that even if a student candidate’s individual vote total is an “official record” that should be disclosed absent an applicable exclusion in the public records act, the vote total was also a “scholastic record” and therefore exempt from mandatory disclosure.
The act states that “scholastic records” are excluded from the disclosure requirements of the act but may be disclosed by holder of the records at his discretion except where disclosure is prohibited by law. The act defines scholastic records as “records, files and other material containing information about a student and maintained by a public body which is an educational agency.” According to the court, vote totals for individual student candidates are records maintained by an educational agency and contain information about identifiable students, and are therefore exempt from mandatory disclosure.
In May 1995, student elections were held at Centerville High School. Students voted to fill positions for class officers and student advisory council representatives. The advisory council is responsible for electing student representatives to the Fairfax County School Board. Prior to the election, Lucas Wall, then editor of the school paper, requested access to the election results pursuant to the act. School officials denied his request, arguing that the election results were not “official records” as defined by the act and even if they were, they were also “scholastic records” exempt from disclosure.
The day after the election, Wall filed suit in the Circuit Court of Fairfax County seeking access to the documents containing the election results. The trial court found that the results were “official records”, but also “scholastic records,” and therefore exempt.
Wall appealed the Virginia Supreme Court and was supported by a friend of the court brief filed by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the Student Press Law Center. The high court affirmed the trial court’s decision. (Wall v. Fairfax County School Board; Media Counsel: William Wall, Fairfax)