Oklahoma Publishes Students’ Personal Information

Parents of 25 students who applied for a waiver from Oklahoma’s high-stakes testing requirement were outraged to find out that the State Department of Education made public the details of their applications, including personal information. The students’ guardians were initially under impression that the documents were only for eyes of the Board of Education members, and only the details about the 7 students whose waiver request were denied would be published.

“No, I was not aware of that!” said Ebenezer Duko, father of Broken Arrow High School senior Dallas Dickens-Duko, whose appeal was denied. “I thought everything had to be confidential. I am very concerned and very disappointed. … I didn’t know there was a waiver in the appeal.”

Under the Oklahoma Achieving Classroom Excellence Act, which applies to the class of 2012 and beyond, students must pass at least four of seven subject matter tests in order to earn a high school diploma.

After hearing complaints from the students, parents and lawmakers, the document was taken down and the personal information was redacted before it was posted again. The spokesman for the State Superintendent Janet Barresi explained that by posting the information about the appeal applications, the department was seeking to meet its goal of transparency, but admitted that revealing of personal information was ill-advised. One of the board members, Joy Hoffmeister, wrote to Barresi explaining that she, and other members, were led to believe that documents distributed and discussed during the Executive Session weren’t subject to the same disclosure rules as those discussed outside the Executive Session, and thus they believed that the student information would be protected.

”I am not an expert in the Open Meeting Act or the Open Records Act, but why were these students’ records and privacy not shielded in this same way?” she wrote. “I would suggest that in the future, anyone who exercises their right to an appeal should be given greater care to protect their privacy. When a situation of competing rights exist, I believe it is incumbent upon us, as a public board and government agency, to exercise the highest level of care and protection in favor of children and young students.”

Barresi wrote in reply that being subject for discussion by a public body that has a public records obligation, means that even education records become subject to disclosure when requested by a member of the public. But Joy Senat, who is a professor of journalism at Oklahoma State University, said that the state public disclosure rules don’t supersede the Federal privacy laws that require that student information be shielded.