Teachers’ birth dates must be disclosed to TV station
ARIZONA–The state court of appeals in Phoenix ruled in mid- January that a school district must honor a television station’s request and release the birth dates of all full-time and substitute teachers. The court held that teachers’ birth dates are public records and the release of such records is not a violation of individual teacher’s privacy rights.
The appeals court held that even though the information television station KPNX was requesting was contained in presumptively confidential personnel files, birth dates are not truly private as they are available from other public documents such as voter registration records, police reports, real estate records and traffic tickets. Because birth dates available from other sources are subject to the public record law, the appeals court reasoned that birth dates contained in the school districts’ personnel files are also public records and should have been disclosed on request.
The requests were made after the Mesa television station discovered in 1994 that a working substitute teacher was a registered sex offender. KPNX decided to conduct an extensive investigation to determine whether other teachers employed by the county school district had criminal records. The station wrote to the 57 school districts in Maricopa County requesting the names and birth dates of all full-time and substitute teachers on the county’s payroll. Twenty- five districts provided KPNX with the names of the teachers but refused to release birth dates, claiming that information was confidential.
In 1995, the districts filed a complaint with the superior court in Phoenix seeking a declaratory judgment as to whether they had to release the birth dates under the public records law. The trial court ruled that the birth dates were private information that should only be disclosed with the teachers’ consent. Moreover, the trial court ruled that because the privacy interests of the teachers’ outweighed KPNX’s “speculative purpose” for seeking the information, the districts were not required to disclose the birth dates. (Scottsdale Unified School District v. KPNX Broadcasting Co.; Media Counsel: Daniel Barr and Cheryl Nackino, Phoenix)