On January 26th, 2016, the Ohio Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case to determine whether a public school district may implement a more restrictive policy on release of student directory information by requiring that parents “opt in” before the information can be released.
The case was brought by School Choice Ohio, Inc. (“SCO”) against the Springfield City School DistrictBoard of Education(“Springfield”). SCO is a registered non-profit corporation formed in the state of Delaware. The corporation informs students and parents across the state about scholarships the state provides, especially to students of low performing or at risk schools. SCO relies on school directory information that public schools provide through a records request to generate its mailing lists.
In January of 2013, SCO submitted a request for student directory information to Springfield. The District denied the request, citing a new policy it had recently passed which purportedly stopped the District’s collection of directory information, and further required parents to sign a consent to “opt in” to release of the data for lawful records requests. SCO countered that under state public records law, codified in ORC §149.43, the District does not have the authority to refuse an otherwise lawful request for directory information that the District maintains. Through its case, SCO seeks an order from the Ohio Supreme Court that would prevent Springfield from denying SCO’s requests for directory information on that ground.
State and federal law, specifically Ohio Revised Code §3319.321 and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (20 USC §1232g/20 CFR Part 99), permit public schools to release limited student information defined as directory information in certain circumstances. In general, federal law defines directory information to include a student’s name, address, telephone number, date and place of birth, honors and awards, and dates of attendance. Ohio’s definition of directory information is more expansive. However, schools are required to provide an annual notice to parents that allow them the opportunity to opt out of directory information releases. Schools also are prohibited from releasing directory information to anyone who may use the information for a profit making plan or venture.
The Supreme Court’s decision in this case could have far-reaching policy implications for districts, and may open the door for additional challenges to the release of directory information in the future. A decision from the Court is not expected before early summer 2016. We will keep you posted on the status of the case. In the meantime, seek legal counsel if you have questions about application of your directory information policies and procedures.