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School waiting list must be public

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School waiting list must be public

  • The state’s attorney general ruled that a newspaper was wrongly denied a listing of students on an elementary school waiting list.

June 10, 2003 — The Kentucky attorney general ruled May 23 that the Barren County School District violated the state’s Open Records Act when it withheld a list of county students on an enrollment waiting list.

The Glasgow Daily Times had requested information showing which students were either admitted or denied admittance to Red Cross Elementary.

The newspaper wanted to find out whether the school district was “enrolling students from outside the district at the expense of the kids in the district,” said Daily Times reporter Ronny Ellis. This went against Barren County’s stated policy of giving district students priority in enrollment, he said.

According to the newspaper’s appeal to the attorney general, one-tenth of Red Cross Elementary’s enrollment came from outside the county, while students from within the county were on the school’s enrollment waiting list.

School Superintendent Jerry Ralston denied the newspaper’s request, claiming that disclosure “would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy” and that it would violate both the federal and the Kentucky Family Education Rights and Privacy Act.

Upon appeal, Assistant Attorney General Amye L. Bensenhaver sided with the Daily Times.

In balancing personal privacy interests “against the significant public interest in monitoring the board’s compliance with its own school attendance area policy, the balance tips in favor of disclosure,” Bensenhaver wrote. “The list at issue . . . must be said to consist of harmless directory information which does not implicate student and family privacy interests.”

In its appeal, the Daily Times claimed that the students’ names were,”simple directory information,” and were therefore not exempt from release. The newspaper also maintained that the school board denied its request in order “to prevent the paper from disclosing that the board is in violation of its own attendance policies.”

(Kentucky Attorney General opinion, 03-ORD-120) GS

© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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