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Student records must be confidential

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    News Media Update         FLORIDA    

    News Media Update         FLORIDA         Freedom of Information    

Student records must be confidential

  • The Court of Appeals of Florida ruled that student records, even when redacted to remove personally identifiable information, may not be made public

May 25, 2004 — Records of student bus fights are confidential student records that may not be publicly released, even when redacted to remove any personally identifiable information, the Court of Appeals of Florida ruled May 14.

In December 2001 and January 2002, WFTV news producer Patti Parker requested Transportation Student Discipline Forms and school bus surveillance videotapes from the Seminole County School Board for a story on a series of fights and other misconduct by students on the buses. Parker limited her request to records redacted to remove anything that would identify individual students.

The school board still refused to release the records, citing a student privacy exemption to the open records provision of the Florida Constitution. Florida is one of only a handful of states to write a public access provision into its constitution.

The TV station filed suit in Circuit Court in Sanford, Fla., and in June 2003, Judge Donna McIntosh ruled for the school board. The TV station appealed.

On May 14, a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed the judgment, holding that there is a difference between records that the legislature has defined as exempt and records that are defined as confidential. Confidential records, such as student records, may not be released, even in redacted form.

“If information is made confidential in the statutes, the information is not subject to inspection by the public,” the court held. “If records are not confidential, but are only exempt from the Public Records Act, the exemption does not prohibit the showing of such information.”

However, the court did view the question as one of great public importance, certifying it for appeal to the state Supreme Court. According to the TV station’s attorney, Jonathan Hart, a decision on whether to appeal has not been made yet. However, the case could not have been further appealed without certification.

(WFTV v. School Board of Seminole Co.; Media Counsel: Jonathan D. Kaney, Cobb & Cole, Daytona Beach) GP

© 2004 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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